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, July 31, 2015

Students Paying More for College Costs

Spending on college expenses was roughly 16% higher for the 2014-15 school term than the year before, according to a new study. The average spent on college, including tuition, room and board, living costs and items such as textbooks and transportation, was $24,164—the most since 2010, when the average was $26,271 after adjustment for inflation.

The report, How America Pays for College 2015, also found that 88% of the respondents would “stretch” their budget to afford college for their kids. The study concluded that parents are increasingly positive about the chances of their children landing jobs and are hopeful about the economy, according to Inc. magazine.

The survey of 800 parents and 800 undergraduates found that economic conditions over the past five years left parents with less money to spend on college. This year’s study showed a surge in spending by high-income parents, while spending by lower-income families stayed nearly the same.

“Traditional economic concerns such as job loss, declining home values, and decreased value of savings are less worrying for parents this year, allowing families greater freedom to concentrate on college,” the author of the report said.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Younger Students Taking Online Courses

A recent survey of 1,500 students found that online undergraduate programs are becoming more popular with younger students. Online College Students, released in July by Aslanian Market Research and the Learning House, found that 34% of undergraduate online students were under the age of 25, up from 25% in the 2012 report.

The percentage of online graduate students under 25 jumped from 13% in 2012 to 19% in the 2015 report. The economic pressures of working and going to school and increasing familiarity with online courses are considered the main reasons for the increase.

“Students have had online courses in their background because many high schools now require an online course,” Carol Aslanian, author of the report and senior vice president of Aslanian Market Research, said in U.S. News & World Report. “If they have started college and are going back, many colleges have them. They are going to be groomed to appreciate it.”

The report found that half of the students enrolled online live within 50 miles of campus and 65% live within 100 miles. In addition, 45% of the respondents said they enrolled in programs that were the least expensive option, up from 30% in the 2014. Two-thirds reported that they did not receive a scholarship for the online program.

Women made up 59% of undergraduates taking online courses in a 2015 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, up from 56% in 2013.

“A lot of professions for which you need further education—health, social services, education—they are dominated by women,” Aslanian said. “Many men may go into business and on their own. The women-oriented employment fields require more education.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Gaming Lets Collegians Build Real Skills

It’s easy to see how educational games might hold the attention of grade-school youngsters and help them learn vocabulary or practice math. But how do educational games work for college-aged students?

Two games created by Pearson’s Center for Learning Science and Technology, with its technical and testing partners, provide a means for postsecondary students to build their skills in argumentation and bioengineering through collaboration and role-playing in fictitious environments.

In the Argubot Academy game, students debate how the first colony on Mars should function, such as the best types of food for the inhabitants to raise. Students conduct research to prepare their arguments and use a “robot battle” format to present their points and refute those of their opponents. If student-players back their arguments with insufficient or irrational evidence, their robotic power diminishes and they lose the battle.

“They can see not only that their argument wasn’t strong, but also what the weakness was, based on the types of attack an opponent launched,” wrote Kristen DiCerbo, principal research scientist for Pearson’s center, in an Educause Review article about the games. Students proceed through multiple levels of mastery.

In the Nephrotex game, students act as interns working on a nanotechnology project for a bioengineering firm. The students collect technical information and data, develop and test hypotheses, and analyze results, all the while recording their activities and communicating with team members via chat and email.

To enable the participation of first-year students, who have just begun to study the field, the setup is adjusted to their knowledge level, with the game automatically filling in the areas the students haven’t studied yet. Students can also interact with live mentors through the game. The purpose is to build a sense of professionalism early on and points “to the promise of games to encourage student persistence in difficult STEM [science, technical, engineering, math] subjects,” DiCerbo said.

Both games allow instructors to track and assess students’ progress.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Security Is a Problem for Higher Ed

Higher education continues to receive failing grades when it comes to keeping its files safe from hackers, finishing last in a recent study conducted by the security ratings firm BitSight. The problem for higher ed is tight budgets, a lack of control, and an open environment needed for bring-your-own-device programs.

Despite eight recorded breaches this year, higher ed has stayed out of the headlines because the attacks tended to be small. However, the large amount of valuable intellectual property, connections to other campus organizations, and student information are tempting to hackers.

“They have a lot of intellectual property that would be nice for others to have, and their systems aren’t very well protected,” Stephen Boyer, chief technology officer and co-founder of BitSight, said in an article in CRN Magazine. “I think we’re going to continue to see these types of breaches.”

The open culture of academia is another security issue, according to Robert Desman, director of business development at Carceron Managed IT Services.

“More than any single thing, it’s a cultural issue, and we’re still in the infancy of where the institutions are in terms of being security-conscious,” Desman said. “They’ll go ahead and build up their police forces if they have a lot of incidents, but it’s always a case of closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

Delivering Ed Content to Any Device

Skyepack is a digital publishing platform developed at Purdue University that allows faculty to assemble low-cost e-content students can access from nearly every operating system or mobile device. Purdue offered eight courses using the e-text platform in a pilot last year. That pilot is being expanded to 11 more courses for 2015-16.

The team that created Skyepack, originally known as Jetpack, wanted to develop an e-textbook that was easy for faculty to produce, while delivering more than just text and images to students. They were also trying to find a new way to save students money on their course materials.

“The project was designed to reimagine instructional material to take advantage of the technologies we have today,” Kyle Bowen, chief technology officer of Skyepack, said in a report from Campus Technology. “In particular, mobile technologies—smartphones, tablets—that allow us to access this material from everywhere.”

Any Purdue faculty member can use the platform to create their own content, but must apply to participate in the digital-textbook pilot program. Those accepted receive a stipend of several thousand dollars to create a textbook and must agree to use the book for two years and make the text available for $10-$20, depending on if the author opts to receive royalties for their work.

The e-texts are developed on a web-based interface, similar to a blogging platform. Students have unlimited access to the content and continue to receive any updates the instructor makes to the textbook after the class has been completed.

“If you drop a video into Skyepack, it re-encodes that video in such a way that it’s designed for delivery to smartphones with smaller screens or tablets with midsized screens or laptops with larger screens,” Bowen said. “It does that translation for you and it does the same thing with text and images and the interactive tools, so it makes it possible for the author to deliver content in all these different environments without having to understand the nuances of each individual environment.” 

Friday, July 24, 2015

National Study Eyes Competency-Based Ed

As interest grows in competency-based education (CBE), planning is underway for the largest survey to date of institutions using CBE programs and for a national conference on the topic this fall. The effort, led by the nonprofit research organization Public Agenda, will help institutions plan and develop CBE degrees, certificates, and other postsecondary credentials, according to a report in eCampus News.

Research on models and trends in CBE is being conducted to create a publicly available online source of information. In addition, research-based design elements of CBE programs and online tools will be made available to institutions interested in building a program.

The survey of institutions with CBE programs will be presented at the CBExchange, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, in Phoenix, AZ. The purpose of the study was to collect data on programs already in use, gauge the practices and design elements of those programs, and measure the importance of those elements to each institution.

A free CBE online resource is also set to launch in the fall, housed on the Competency Based Education Network (C-BEN).

“As competency-based education gains momentum nationwide, there is a growing need for resources that will help interested colleges and universities develop thoughtful plans that lead to quality progams,” said Alison Kadlec, senior vice president and director of higher education and workforce programs at Public Agenda. “This 15-month project was designed to produce a baseline understanding of the landscape and advances in competency-based education and help inform various higher-education stakeholders.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Interactivity Takes Place of Reading

While electronic devices may be distracting in the classroom, long readings in dull textbooks can be like a sleeping pill for many students. The online learning platform zyBooks is trying to change that.

The website replaces text with learning activities such as questions and animation. Instructors at nearly 250 universities are using the platform instead of traditional textbooks to help students engage with the material, according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I say an animation is worth 5,000,” Frank Vahid, computer science and engineering professor at the University of California, Riverside, and co-founder of zyBooks, told UCR Magazine last spring. “So we don’t have to write as much because we can replace a whole page of text with an animation or with learning questions.”

Platform creators also took a look at ways to improve homework. zyBooks integrates assignments into the platform, which are personalized to students’ ability levels. It also allows a way for instructors to track progress.

Students can subscribe to the service for $40-$60 per class, with discounts available for subscription renewals and extensions. The company offers special pricing for high schools and large numbers of multiterm subscriptions.

A two-year study of nearly 2,000 students done by Zyante Inc., the company founded by Vahid and Smita Bakshi, a former UC Davis engineering professor, found that those using zyBooks averaged a quarter-grade higher than those using traditional content. In addition, a controlled group of 136 students showed they spent twice as much time using the interactive zyBooks material when compared with reading electronic content.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Website Helps Chinese Grads Find Jobs

Colleges and universities around the world try to help students find employment after graduation. A university in China has taken that effort online.

The Kunming University Talent Shop is an online site that features top graduates on the Alibaba retail platform, Taobao. Students are divided into four categories that “promote Chinese infrastructure investment and manufacturing power,” according to a report from CNBC.

The site includes a photo, a summary of career goals, and salary expectations for each student. Prospective employers are then able to bid for the right to offer a student a contract. The bidding fees start at $160, according to a report in People’s Daily Online.

Chinese officials expect more than seven million graduates to be looking for jobs in the country in 2015. At the same time, the number of new jobs created has fallen from 3.44 million in the first quarter of 2014 to 3.24 million during the same period this year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Books Go Multimedia to Lure Kid Readers

What were your favorite books as a child? Chances are, those same titles would earn bored yawns from many kids today. According to The Atlantic, some teachers and children’s publishers are experimenting with digital enhancements to hold the interest of elementary-school readers.

The term “reader” may not be entirely accurate. The Atlantic noted that some of these e-books are heavy on multimedia and light on text; some are actually interactive apps. Yet parents and their children are responding positively to them, while teachers and librarians report they’re having a hard time holding their classes’ attention with all-text books, no matter how popular the titles once were.

If children get used to multimedia entertainment in their reading books in grade school, they may expect the same when they get to college. In fact, they may not even be able to effectively study pages of text without digital enhancements. Two researchers at West Chester University “found that students tend to spend more time reading enhanced books, but that they often comprehend less of the material,” said The Atlantic article.

In some cases, publishers are putting digital extras into e-books just because they can—audio of noises in the story, for instance—and not to help young readers understand the book’s themes or learn new vocabulary. In others, though, the digital books and apps were intentionally created to be used in conjunction with print books as a means to extend the reading experience.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Video a Key Part of Blended Learning

There was a day when video in the classroom, particularly a high school classroom, meant an easy afternoon for both student and teacher. A white paper from the London educational technology firm Knowledgemotion reported today’s students prefer to learn through video.

The report, Perfecting Blended Learning: Why Video IsThe Missing Ingredient In Blended Learning, found that using relevant video provides an alternative teaching tool to traditional textbooks. It also reinforces reading and comprehension, enhances different learning styles, and promotes teacher effectiveness.

The study found video should comprise of short, edited clips categorized with the curriculum. It should also be used as a complementary resource with textbooks and other content.

“The impact and value of video in ‘blended learning’ represents an ongoing field of research,” wrote the authors of the report. “Recent surveys, empirical studies, and industry reports overwhelmingly agree that video in education, when used correctly, can significantly boost student engagement, enjoyment, and learning outcomes.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Nontraditional Students Take MOOCs

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are being used to supplement traditional learning, according to a survey from Duke University, Durham, NC. The study of 13 MOOCs offered by Duke looked specifically at students younger than 18, older than 65, and those with limited access to higher education.

“The idea was trying to get a better handle on individuals who were underserved because so much of the popular press has focused on highly educated, white (for the most part), upper-middle-class folks taking Coursera courses,” said Lorrie Schmid, lead researcher on the study. “We wanted to get a sense of these other groups and how they might be approaching, in similar or different ways, these types of classes.”

Younger students often take MOOCs on subjects not taught in their school and to help them make academic and career choices, according to the Duke Research blog. Older students take MOOCs to keep their minds active, pursue lifelong learning, and to help younger associates in their professional field. Convenience and availability were the main reason students with limited access to college chose to participate in MOOCs. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The GHOST in Your Touchscreen

Imagine a touchscreen that can expand while a movie is being viewed and then shrinks back to its original size when the movie is finished, or a smartphone that bends and stretches automatically to shield the user’s fingers while entering private data. Such devices could be on the market in the next five years.

Generic, Highly Organic Shape-Changing Interfaces (GHOST) technology is being developed by four European universities to let consumers use their touchscreens as 3-D displays. Users will be able to pull objects out of their computer screen and manipulate the information as it is suspended in the air with a swipe of their fingers.

Deformable screens and ultrasound levitation technology makes the GHOST research possible, according to a report from Fox News. Researchers have already developed touchscreens that automatically change shape and ways to project data into the air. One prototype allows users to break down bar charts into rows and columns once they have been pulled out of the touchscreen.

“It’s not only about deforming the shape of the screen, but also the digital object you want to manipulate, maybe even in midair,” Kasper Hornbaek, professor at the University of Copenhagen and GHOST coordinator, said in a statement. “Through ultrasound levitation technology, for example, we can project the display out of the flat screen. And thanks to deformable screens, we can plunge our fingers into it.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ed Platform Takes the Arts Online

The arts are taking a back seat to career-focused degrees on many campuses. A new online learning platform is trying to remedy that by offering an affordable way for students to fulfill their first-year requirements.

Kadenze was launched in June with 22 art courses from leading colleges and universities, such as Princeton, Stanford, and UCLA. Seven of the schools participating in the program are even offering college credit for completed Kadenze courses for as little as $300, depending on the number of units.

“We’re really trying to build that first-year experience where students can learn the key assets for their particular field and then apply to college, maybe with a semester done,” Kadenze CEO Ajay Kapur told eCampus News. “Our goal is not to replace the university; it’s to get people prepared for it while also reducing the costs.”

Kadenze also hopes to attract lifelong learners by allowing anyone to audit courses for free. In addition, for a nominal monthly membership fee, students can participate in as many courses as they want and earn official verification for completed courses.

The platform was built with an emphasis on collaboration, peer and algorithm-based assessment, and high production values. Each course provides students with a gallery in which to share their work and have it assessed by other students. The algorithm-based assessment tools were designed specifically for an arts education.

“A student can submit a piece of music, for example, and our software is able to actually listen to the music and provide feedback,” Kapur said.

“I really want to mentor the students, not just present information to them. I could put up YouTube videos if that was the only goal,” added Jay LeBoeuf, a Stanford lecturer who is teaching a Kadenze course. “The aim is to have a really immersive environment where students are asking questions in the forum and submitting their assignments. That way, students can make comments on those assignments and see how other students are thinking.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Store of the Future May Be a Hologram

For years, technologists have predicted that virtual-reality applications are right around the corner—apps that can provide an immersive 3-D experience to enhance students’ learning, allow a customer to try products, or provide employee training. At long last, they may be right.

Most of the virtual-reality applications so far have dabbled in gaming. Microsoft has been trying to scare up companies to develop more practical software for its augmented-reality headset known as HoloLens. Last week, one company stepped forward with plans to build apps for HoloLens with businesses in mind.

Object Theory, whose founders include a former Microsoft engineer and an entrepreneur who created mobile apps for Starbucks and Whole Foods Market, told the IDG News Service it expects to leave the gaming apps to the entertainment industry and instead focus on business needs.

“High-end jewelry and fashion stores and car dealerships could use HoloLens to show customers products that are customized to their specifications,” said IDG’s article in PC World. “Holograms can help retailers plan store layouts and shelf placement, among other in-store uses.”

Recent advances in the technology that underpins augmented reality are making it more commercially feasible to develop apps that businesses could actually deploy.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Educators Asked about Digital Tech Use

A survey by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found that 97% of K-12 educators and school administrators used some kind of digital content and more than 50% used apps, websites, and digital games in the classroom. The 2015 Educator Confidence Report also showed gaps in how teachers and administrators view the way technology was being used.

For instance, 71% of the responding teachers said they used free or open educational resources (OER) in their classrooms, while 87% of the administrators thought OER content was being used. Teachers and administrators also have different opinions on the use of online assessments (42% of the teachers said they used the tools, compared to 66% of administrators), learning management systems (36% vs. 64%), and adaptive learning content (35% vs. 49%).

Most educators said technology improved student engagement (66%) and provided students with better access to instructional content (55%). A majority (58%) were also either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about student privacy issues, according to the eSchool News report.

However, just 41% of those responding said they felt positive about teaching and 23% of teachers with less than 10 years of experience said they plan to leave the profession within five years.

“There is no denying that the education sector is undergoing an exciting—and challenging—transformation,” HMH Chief Content Officer Mary Cullinane said in a release. “Understanding the views of the teachers who are navigating this transformation is crucial. There is no one size fits all, which is why it is so important educator voices are heard and their real needs understood.”

Friday, July 10, 2015

Facial Recognition to Become Commonplace

The use of facial-recognition software is about to become much more widespread. MasterCard is set to launch a pilot using the technology, while a new report predicted the number of devices with facial-recognition software will rise from 28.5 million in 2015 to more than 122 million by 2024.

The marketing intelligence research firm Tractica also expects the annual revenue for facial biometrics to grow by 22% annually, to more than $880 million over the next nine years, according to a report in VentureBeat.

“Adoption of facial recognition will be particularly strong during the next several years in mobile-device authentication, but areas of growth will also include government applications, such as national ID cards and biometrics passports, as well as finance/banking and retail applications,” the authors of the report wrote.

The MasterCard pilot is aimed at finding ways for shoppers to use biometric scans or voice recognition to verify their identity for purchases. According to reports, MasterCard is working with several hardware and software companies on the project, along with two banks.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Carnegie Mellon Trying a Blended Approach

Because Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, has too many students signing up for some of its computer science courses, the institution is planning a “blended learning” approach to the courses to meet demand this fall.

The program, funded by a $200,000 prize from the Google Computer Science Capacity Awards program, will be like other blended learning courses, but also combine video lectures with optional mini-lectures and group meetings with instructors to reinforce concepts that need to be taught in person. If successful, some of the materials from the course could be used in high schools next year.

While there are no guarantees, some research indicates the Carnegie Mellon approach should work, according to a report for Slate. A study by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center found that students taking hybrid courses had results similar to those taking traditional classes. Other research has found the blended-learning model helped poor-performing algebra students do better than their counterparts in a teacher-led class.

“Carnegie Mellon’s determinate efforts provide a spark of hope—if the school is successful, others may follow in its path,” Amy X. Wang wrote in a Future Tense blog post. “Perhaps we will begin to see more diverse teaching methods, as well as fewer students crouching in the aisles of overcrowded lecture halls.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beware of Technology Addiction

Technology has become a driving force for most people, but, just like anything else, too much of a good thing can be too much. Technology can become addictive, and that can starts as early as infancy.

Kids now grow up in a world where they play with toys that link them to the Internet and television shows that encourage live tweeting. The increase in screen time boosts the chance that children may suffer from low self-esteem and relationship problems, which follow them through their teenage years and into adulthood, according to a report in InformationWeek.

Social awkwardness can be the least of the concerns for adults who develop symptoms from excessive digital dependence. They also suffer from insomnia, short-term memory and hearing loss, eye irritation, and spinal damage.

“There are plenty of ways to minimize your risk of digital overload,” wrote Kelly Sheridan. “Start by monitoring your smartphone use. An hour before bed, leave you phone in the kitchen to charge instead of putting it on your bedside table overnight. If you have a desk job, set a timer every 20 minutes so you know when to stand and stretch you legs. Alter the volume limit on your iPod, which lets you adjust the maximum level of sound emitted from the earbuds. And finally, walk past the couch when you get home, put on a pair of sneakers, and go for a stroll. Your body will thank you for it.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ASU, edX Team on Freshman MOOCs

Arizona State University and online learning platform edX are working together to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) to cover an entire freshman curriculum. The Global Freshman Academy will launch this fall with three courses. Those will be increased by two courses per semester until reaching a full 12-course catalog.

Students will be able to participate in the classes for free, but required to pay a $45 identity-verification fee to gain credit. Students will be able to take proctored exams for credits, which will cost $200 each. The estimated cost to students in the program will be around $6,000 for a full year’s tuition.

The fees fund administrative services, including transcription assistance. ASU plans to add details in course descriptions about which classes will be helpful for certain majors.

“It is in our minds to eventually reduce tuition,” said Adrian Sanier, chief academic technology officer at ASU. “Once we are running at full volume, we believe we’ll be able to lower the cost to students.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cybercriminals Target Ed Sector

The 2015 Global Threat Intelligence Report found that the education sector accounted for more than a third of all the reported malware incidents. NTT.Com Security analyzed more than six billion attacks and reported that the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) format instructors are beginning to use could be to blame.

Students and staff use a variety of devices on institutional networks, often providing personal information in the process. Cybercriminals understand that and so focus their attacks on those networks.

“The history of open networks at education institutions has resulted in network architectures where there is usually no strong separation between areas containing sensitive data and untested areas where professors, students, or visitors can connect,” said Chris Camejo, director of assessment services for NTT.Com Security. “This makes it more difficult to prevent, detect, and respond to attack. IT officials must develop a strategy that is custom to the BYOD culture that they have embraced.”

Friday, July 3, 2015

Enjoy the Fourth!

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wearable Market Triples in Growth

The New Media Consortium advised that wearable technology was becoming “increasingly relevant” in education when its 2015 Horizon Report, released in February. The International Data Corp. (IDC) followed by reporting that shipments of wearable devices have grown for eight consecutive quarters.

IDC reported a growth in shipments for the first quarter of 2015 of 11.4 million units, a 200% increase over the same quarter in 2014. That doesn’t include the Apple Watch, which has sold around 2.8 million units since its release in April.

“What remains to be seen is how Apple’s arrival will change the landscape,” Ramon Llamas, IDC research manager, told Campus Technology. “The Apple Watch will likely become the device that other wearables will be measured against, fairly or not. This will force the competition to up their game in order to stay on the leading edge of the market.”

Authors of the Horizon report expect that experimentation with wearable devices will be high in education circles, especially with college-aged students. The study found that 71% of students in the survey wanted to use wearables. In addition, two Nebraska universities are working on curricula that would help students in grades 4-6 use wearable technology to learn more about engineering.

The quarterly report said Fitbit topped the market with 3.9 million devices shipped in the first quarter, grabbing 34% of the total market. The Chinese firm Xiaomi was second with 2.8 million units shipped, mostly in China, followed by Garmin (700,000 devices shipped), Samsung (600,000 units), and Jawbone (500,000 units).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

EdX Cure for the Summertime Slide

There’s more to summer than good times, relaxation, and vacations. The time away from school makes students susceptible to “summer slide.”

While “summer slide” research tends to focus on how parents should work with their K-12 students on their reading skills, edX and the National Summer Learning Association teamed up to launch a collection of more than 60 courses on core subjects for high school and college students. Select courses will also help high school students with advanced placement (AP) and college-admission exams.

“The summer slide is a very real challenge faced by many American students and it can be detrimental to their overall educational development,” edX CEO Anant Agarwal said. “Online learning, because it offers free and openly available tools and resources, enables motivated students to combat this head-on.”