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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Monday, August 31, 2015

Doubts about MOOCs

There's been a lot written about massive open online courses (MOOCs), but what do college students think? A survey of undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found they appreciate the potential of MOOCs, but have concerns about reliability and quality.

The study, What do current college studentsthink about MOOCs, asked participants eight open-ended questions on their perceptions and attitudes toward MOOCs compared with press coverage of the courses.

“Students currently enrolled in MOOCs constitute a population of early adopters of a new technology,” the authors of the report wrote. “For MOOCs to be widely accepted as effective means of education, MOOCs must achieve a critical mass of users to either align with, or overcome, prevalent existing students’ attitudes toward higher education.”

The survey found that 81% of the responding students said they had concerns over the reliability of MOOCs and 52% worried about the content used. While 58% held positive views of MOOC accessibility, 49% had concerns about a lack of guidance from instructors and 40% were troubled by a lack of communication options with the instructors teaching the MOOC.

Researchers concluded that many students feel the information presented through MOOCs is not of the same quality as that in a traditional college course. The students also felt feedback from instructors was too slow. Another significant issue was the fact that MOOCs don’t always offer college credit.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Students Need Hands-On Experience

Experts expect the demand for employees in professional, scientific, and technical service fields to rise nearly 30% over the next five years. On-the-job training and apprenticeship programs will play an important role in addressing this need, but students must master both theory and application.

It’s up to higher-education administrators and faculty to develop standards to prepare technical workers for the future while ensuring that a technical education is a well-rounded engaging experience, according to Jeff Ylinen, provost of Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis, MN, in a column for eCampus News.

“In more standard educational models, students first build a foundation of theory and then, later in their degree program, apply that theory through specific coursework and internships,” Ylinen wrote. “We’ve found that by flipping this model and immersing our students from day one in real-world environments and workplace situations, they more quickly develop a body of experience and contextual understanding of specialist technical environments that make the learning of theory far more relevant and successful.”

On-campus training centers can provide the hands-on learning students need to prepare for apprenticeships and employment. Such centers do require an investment from the institution, but the return is students who gain valuable experience and meet industry expectations.

“Creating opportunities for students to not only become familiar with emerging materials and new technologies, but also to physically work with them and understand their properties and parameters, creates a far greater degree of knowledge currency and job readiness postgraduation and increases students’ excitement over the direction their chosen fields are pursuing,” Ylinen wrote.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rethinking the Textbook

An American University study found students aren’t interested in paying for textbooks outside of their major, even as a rental. They will purchase course materials in their major, as long as they don’t cost more than $50.

At the same time, reports suggest the amount of time students spend studying has dropped to about 15 hours a week, compared to about 24 hours a week in the 1960s.

The challenge for faculty is to find a balance between reading assignments and what students will realistically do, according to Naomi S. Baron, executive director of the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning at American University, in an essay for Inside Higher Education.

“There is a pressing need for meaningful collaboration between faculty members and the publishing industry to find ways of producing materials designed to foster learning that reaches beyond the test—and that students can be reasonably expected to procure and use,” Baron wrote.

To Baron, students see books as a value proposition with an eye toward getting a better grade. Faculty needs to understand that and decide if the reading assignments provide long-term value. Publishers should understand that if students aren’t willing to pay for new editions and high-priced, color-laden textbooks, they probably aren’t reading them.

Finally, students must know that if they aren’t reading their assignments, they probably aren't going to get a better grade.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Younger Adults Use More Social Media

In case there was any doubt about it, a newly released Pew Research Center study confirmed younger adults are more likely to be active on social media—except for LinkedIn—than any other adult age group.

The research report said the survey was conducted by phone in March and April of 2015. Only adults aged 18 and up were included.

Facebook is still the big kahuna among all social-media sites. Although its growth has flattened in recent years, the site still commands active use from 72% of all online adults and 82% of those aged 18-29. That age bracket also dominated users of Instagram (55%, almost double the percentage of all adults), Pinterest (37%), Twitter (32%), Tumblr (20%) and online discussion groups such as reddit or Digg (20%).

Only on LinkedIn do the numbers of younger adults falter. They account for just 22% of users, compared to those 30-49 (32%) and 50-64 (26%). That’s not surprising, given that LinkedIn is aimed at working professionals.

Overall, in relation to Facebook, adult usage of the other major social-media sites is still low but growing at a rapid pace. “The proportion of online adults who use Pinterest and Instagram has doubled since Pew Research Center first started tracking social media platform adoption in 2012,” the report said.

The survey also looked at adult use of messaging apps, such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Kik. Again, the 18-29 group topped the others, with 49% using such apps to exchange text messages via Wi-Fi to avoid using up data on a cellphone plan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Survey Says Tech Matters to Students

In a new survey, 81% of responding students said they believe fewer people will attend college over the next 10 years because of the cost of higher education. Students also said digital textbooks are more affordable (34%), more convenient (31%), and more engaging (20%) than print.

More than 500 currently enrolled students participated in the fifth annual VitalSource Technologies survey. The poll found that 74% of the students believed they would get better grades if more technology was used in the classroom, while 56% said they felt more comfortable with online courses and 51% said they got better grades in their online courses compared to in-person classes.

The study also found that 87% of the students used a device to read digital course materials, up from 63% in 2011. Those who said they used a device to read digital material frequently increased from 48% in 2011 to 78% in 2015. Another 44% also admitted they could go no longer than 10 minutes without using some form of digital technology.

Most of the students said they believed technology was the way to increase participation in class and complete assigned work. Students identified other ways to improve their learning experiences, including:

  • Interactive homework that contains elements such at video (61%)
  • The ability to exchange instant feedback with professors (61%)
  • Personalized learning formats, such as those that allow teachers to track student progress in real time (55%)
  • Technology that enhances digital collaborate between students (48%)

“Technology continues to be of critical importance to students, especially in the classroom,” said Cindy Clarke, vice president of marketing for VitalSource Technologies. “The research validates the degree to which students depend on technology to provide them with a competitive edge while they are in school and after graduation as they prepare to enter a workforce which is increasingly digitally literate and globally connected.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Initiative Will Help More Earn Degrees

Research has found that students earning an associate degree are more likely to complete a four-year undergraduate education and improve their employment opportunities. A new initiative could make it possible for two million community college students to retroactively receive their associate degrees.

The Reverse Transfer Project, an initiative from the National Student Clearinghouse, is a standardized process that allows two- and four-year institutions to transfer student credits. Technology advances in data storage and analytics make it possible to identify credits earned at any institution and transfer them back to the two-year program where a student started, according to a report in eCampus News.

“The data capacity of the Clearinghouse will allow institutions to assist students who have transferred,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation. “Institutions will now have better data to conduct degree audits on students’ accumulated records and students will have recognition for achieving their associate degree.”

There are already 3,600 institutions participating in the reverse transfer program and more states are working on similar programs through the Correctly Recognizing Education Achievements to Empower (CREATE) Graduates legislation.

“The Clearinghouse Reverse Transfer Project is a major step in improving higher-education outcomes, which will benefit us as a nation,” said Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the America Association for Community Colleges. “More students will get the degrees they deserve. Community colleges will be recognized for the value they add to education. And by granting more degrees, states will be better positioned to attract new business.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Network Maps Pathway to Careers

Eight states have joined forces to find the best ways to help connect high school students to a postsecondary education that leads to a full-time job. The Pathways to Prosperity Network is trying to develop a “gold-standard model” for states to use, identifying lessons learned and policy recommendations that are useful, according to a report in eCampus News.

The State Progress Report 2012-14, released by Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found that while job availability differs from region to region, the health-care industry, information and computer science, and advanced manufacturing are areas of growth in all eight states and only require two-year degrees.

The report noted that career information should be provided to students in middle school. It also found that important “levers” in each participating state included work-based learning experiences; allowing students to earn college credits in high school; bringing together employers, high school, and community colleges to provide work-based learning opportunities; and creating cross-sector state leadership teams to make work-based learning opportunities possible.

“The states we are working with are committed to destroying once and for all the old notion that some kids need to prepare for college while others are being prepared for careers,” said Robert Schwartz, who helps lead the network. “They understand that, in the 21st century, all young people need to be prepared both for some form of further education and a career.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Group Bringing Microdegrees to Campus

The idea of microcredentialing through nanodegrees and badges is becoming more accepted, but limited mostly to educational technology firms. A group of traditional colleges and universities are working on a way to get into the game.

The Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Washington, the University of California Davis, Irvine, and Los Angeles, and the University of Wisconsin Extension have joined forces on a project called the University Learning Store. Still in its initial stages, the concept is designed to create an alternative credentialing process through modular content, skills assessments, and services for students—such as tutors, coaches, and counselors—similar to programs being offered by Coursera and Udacity, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

The group wants to be able to offer students different products from a variety of providers through the University Learning Store. Online content will include courses where instructors interact with students through the material, just like current online courses but for a shorter period of time. There will also be direct assessment through tests, papers, and projects, along with courses that award microdegrees for proficiency in job-related soft skills.

The University Learning Store would also be based on the “freemium” model where some content is free but students would also have to pay for some services. Assessment, tutoring, and other support services would be fee based.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Campus CIOs Are 'Unsung Heroes'

IT personnel working in the for-profit corporate world have it easy compared to their colleagues on college and university campuses. Computerworld calls the chief information officers in higher education the “unsung heroes of academia.”

“Far from taking it easy while students are out on break, higher-ed CIOs work tirelessly all summer to prepare for every imaginable back-to-school nightmare, from a security breach to a network outage to a Twitterstorm of negative publicity,” said writer Cindy Waxer in a Computerworld article profiling the challenges of serving thousands of students, faculty, and staff on a campus.

Some institutions, faced with balancing cost and service, are coming up with innovative solutions. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, upgraded its wireless network to ensure enough access points in areas where concentrated numbers of students might need to jump on at the same time—such as classrooms—but scaled back the access points in dormitories and other areas where users are spread out.

Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA, looked to police tactics to improve computer technician response times. Noting how some police departments crunch data to determine “crime hot spots” and then assign more patrol cars to those areas, the school used computer modeling to predict where technicians would be most needed at various times.

“Technicians are now situated in key locations around campus so that if an issue arises, they can be on-site within minutes,” the article noted. Average response time is now 13 minutes. Previously, it took a technician one to two hours to show up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Researchers Work on Machine Teaching

Machine learning is the process of developing mathematical tools to help computers learn from data. Researchers at the University-Madison are taking that a step further by developing machineteaching.

“My hope is that machine teaching has an impact on the educational world,” said Jerry Zhu, an associate professor of computer science who is leading the project. “It’s quite different from how people usually think about education. It will give us optimal, personalized lessons for real human students.”

Machine teaching would provide instructors with the tools to develop the perfect personalized lesson plan. For instance, the tool could be used to identify the smallest number of exercises needed for a student to understand a particular concept.

“In order for the machine-teaching approach to work, it needs a good model of how the learner behaves—that is, how the learner’s behavior changes with different kinds of learning or practice experiences,” said Timothy Rogers, professor of cognitive psychology at UW-Madison. “Also, the model needs to be computational; it has to be able to make concrete, quantitative predictions about the learner’s behavior.”

Currently, a grant from the UW-Madison graduate school is funding the work. The team plans to seek outside funding sources going forward.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mobile Learning Isn't Just about the Device

Mobile learning isn’t necessarily learning on the go or only performed on smartphones. Mobile learning is also not about the technology or just another form of e-learning, according to a pair of South African researchers.

“M-learning holds much promise and provides exciting opportunities for open and distance learning (ODL),” wrote the authors of the report Mobile Learning: Moving Past the Myths and Embracing the Opportunities. “In order to understand the opportunities, we first need to understand what m-learning is all about.”

For instance, the authors found that students do use mobile devices to learn while riding in a bus, but also when they are sitting at home.  Laptops and tablets should also be part of the mobile-device conversation, if they aren’t already.

In addition, the authors contended that mobile is not just for distance learning, but can be useful in the classroom. They found that m-learning doesn’t mean accessing course materials on a device or only using current teaching and learning methods.

“As with new phenomena, myths and misperceptions exist regarding what m-learning does and does not entail,” they wrote. “In order to understand the fundamentals of m-learning, we have to define what m-learning is by addressing the major misperceptions and outlining some of the possibilities that m-learning offers to the enhancement of open and distance learning.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

ACE Suggests Online Learning Standards

The American Council on Education (ACE) is pushing for standards for recognizing online degree programs across different states. Implementing uniform national standards would protect students and make sure institutions provide a quality education.

Each state conducts oversight and regulation of its postsecondary education, but each also deals differently with out-of-state institutions. In addition, institutions that enroll out-of-state students online must adhere to a variety of agencies and requirements that can be cumbersome and costly.

In the paper A More Uniform Way of Recognizing OnlineDegree Programs Across State Lines, with SARA as a Focus, ACE suggested that the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) provide a solution because it would be similar to the way drivers’ licenses are recognized across different states.

SARA, administered by four regional higher-education groups, is a voluntary program that could help develop reasonable standards and quality for online programs, according to the report. It also found that participating in SARA could lead to lower costs for states and institutions, and, ultimately, students.

“The current process is too varied among the states to ensure consistent consumer protection, too cumbersome and expensive for institutions that seek to provide education across state borders, and too fragmented to support our country’s architecture for quality assurance in higher education—the quality assurance triad of accrediting agencies, the federal government, and the states,” the authors of the report wrote.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

VR Heading to the Classroom

With companies such as General Motors and Ford using virtual-reality technology to train employees, it was only a matter of time before it gained a foothold in education. And its place in the classroom is only going to get bigger as the cost of VR technology keeps falling.

Student-built VR headsets made of foam and cardboard are now available for about $18 each. The inexpensive headsets use smartphones to run graphics and don’t require new technology or operating systems to function. In addition, developers keep creating new ways to use the technology.

More importantly, tech-savvy students are pushing the move to VR technology in schools. They have grown up using tablets and smartphones and are ready and willing to use the devices for school.

“Educational opportunities will literally only be limited by our own imaginations,” Richard L. White, emerging-technologies developer at the Southeast Kansas Education Center, said in an article for EdTech.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Report Looks at Cost of Online Courses

Colleges and universities make online courses available to students at significantly lower fees than traditional on-campus classes. At the same time, the size of the institution plays a role in that cost, according to a report in eCampus News.

A University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study found online courses cost about a third less than traditional classes. It also noted that medium-sized institutions tended to set online fees higher than small and large universities, and that private schools were lower than public institutions.

The research compared the online and on-campus course offerings from 103 colleges and universities in the United States. The pricing information was freely available online for each institution.

“This study makes an initial attempt to test hypotheses of whether different types of educational institutions set the same prices for their online courses and on-campus courses,” wrote Shouhong Wang, professor of management information systems at UMass Dartmouth and author of the report. “The database evidences might be helpful for administrators to understand more about how different types of educational institutions adopt different online course pricing strategies and practices.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Microdegree May Rival Four-Year Degree

New players in higher education may be upending the concept of a degree. Instead of pursuing a traditional degree over a number of years, more college students may opt for a much shorter path to a “microdegree.”

According to a report in Campus Technology, Udacity stirred up some chatter at the Google I/O conference with its new Android application developer program, which enables students to achieve the credential within 12 months. Udacity offers five other skill-based programs leading to a “nanodegree,” a term the company has trademarked. Coursera also has a number of shorter-term study programs that award microdegrees upon completion.

Campus Technology noted that “the concept of an institution-agnostic microcredential isn’t new,” but the fresh angle is that for-profit companies such as Udacity and Coursera are partnering with major companies to create the course content. That ensures the curriculum meets the needs of potential employers and gets students through the program quickly so they can fill positions.

“A growing number of industries are open to the idea of employing people with portfolio backgrounds—that is, people without four-year degrees who have done different things and can show you what they’ve done,” said Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension, in the article. Wisconsin is taking part in the Lumina Foundation’s project to construct a “credential registry” for students.

Others think microdegrees won’t replace traditional degrees, but will allow people to add credentials as they proceed through their career. “It just means that those four-year programs that are best able to integrate with ‘nano-,’ ‘micro-,’ and ‘meso-’ certificate programs will be more likely to thrive,” said Alexander Halavais, associate professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arizona State University.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Matching Online Courses to Real Skills

Some critics have blasted colleges and universities for failing to ensure students are taking subjects that prepare them adequately for jobs after graduation. Coursera has kicked off a new program intended to align college coursework with the skills needed by major companies around the world.

Dubbed the Global Skills Initiative, the program pairs Microsoft, Cisco, UBS, Qualcomm, BNY Mellon, and Splunk with one of the 120 schools that provide online courses through Coursera. Together they will develop online course content specifically designed for each corporate partner’s field of specialty.

“The Global Skills Initiative brings together the knowledge of industry leaders and the world-class teaching and academic research of top universities to create highly applicable curricular material,” said Coursera CEO Rick Levin in a press release. Some of the partner companies may also use the collaborations to create internal training programs for existing staff.

The schools and companies will identify specific skill sets, especially those in high demand. The university creates the course, with funding from the corporation, which also furnishes industry expertise in the form of case studies, applied projects, and guest lectures. For example, Qualcomm is working with the University of California, San Diego, on course content related to the “Internet of things,” a concept focused on building computerized connectivity into ordinary objects such as household appliances.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Wearable Offers Mobile Books for the Blind

A new wrist device slated to debut this December is intended to help sight-impaired users read Braille versions of books and text messages while on the go.

The face of the Dot, which resembles a fitness tracker, features four sets of six raised dots. The dots lift or recede to form four Braille letters at a time. The device—which also functions as a watch, alarm, and navigation system with Bluetooth capabilities—can be used for five days before needing to be charged.

“Touchscreens are not conducive to the blind as they cannot see the shifting pixels on the smooth device,” said a Popular Science article about the Dot. “That has not only slowed down the technological literacy for the blind, but has also impaired their reading literacy, cutting them off from most information that isn’t published in print.”

The device was developed by a company based in South Korea, but most of its young design team are fairly recent graduates of U.S. universities. The company claims the Dot will retail for about $300, while Braille-enabled e-readers cost upwards of $2,000. The only other alternatives to Braille books—audio recordings and text-to-speech software—are either expensive to create or don’t always work properly.

One immediate drawback for the device is a lack of reading material. Only about 1% of published books have been converted into Braille, but the company hopes the availability of the Dot will encourage publishers to offer more titles in that format.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Study Finds Students Accept Digital

There have been plenty of studies that show students prefer printed text to digital when it comes to their course materials. The educational technology firm VitalSource Technologies thinks students are starting to appreciate digital more.

The company’s fifth-annual survey on the impact of technology in education reported that 78% of students use digital course materials, up 48% from 2011. Affordability was the greatest benefit to using digital textbooks, according to 34% of the responding college students, while 31% said digital was more convenient, and 20% said it was more engaging.

To 61% of the responding students, digital homework was more interactive and 48% felt their learning was enhanced by digital elements. A majority of the students (61%) thought the ability digital content provides to have instant feedback from professors improved their learning and 55% said the ability to personalize their education with digital was helpful.

“Technology continues to be of critical importance to students, especially in the classroom,” said Cindy Clarke, VitalSource vice president of marketing, in a release. “The research validates the degree to which students depend on technology to provide them with a competitive edge while they are in school and after graduation as they prepare to enter the workforce, which is increasingly digitally literate and globally connected.” 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Myths about MOOCs

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been a topic of debate for a number of years. Pundits have proclaimed they would be the end of higher education as we know it, while critics point to poor completion rates as proof that they simply don’t work.

What MOOCs have done is create a conversation about how we learn and teach, according to Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and a contributor to Inside Higher Education.

“Every college and university is working to make sure that the classes offered on campus offer greater value than what can be had online and for free,” Kim wrote in a recent blog post. “Methods and practices around residential education are being re-examined and rethought. Learning is understood as a competitive institutional differentiator.”

At the same time, Kim has issues with the assumptions both experts and detractors make about open online education. The first is the idea that MOOCs are a substitute for traditional courses.

“Higher-order learning is an activity that cannot be scaled,” he wrote. “Foundational knowledge may be appropriate for a MOOC (or a textbook, or even a really well-designed educational video game), but advanced learning works best with an educator.”

Other things about MOOCs that Kim said are often misleading include the idea that MOOCs are the same as online education; that open online courses will lower the cost of education; that the work of traditional colleges and universities is being threatened; that the cost of producing MOOCs is prohibitive; that MOOCs remain a fad; and that they will not change higher ed.

“The bigger higher-ed story that nobody seems to be telling is just how much better colleges and universities are getting,” Kim wrote. “Where everyone is focused on climbing walls and lazy rivers, the real story is improved learning.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Software Hinders Online Learning

Joanna Cabot has been taking online courses for the last seven years. In a blog post for TeleRead, she claims they haven’t gotten much better over that span.

Her biggest complaint is how the courses are implemented. A check of the gradebook function for her latest online study required a variety of clicks and scrolling, then waiting and more scrolling, before the function was accessed.

“It would be like driving to the grocery store and finding that all of the fruits and vegetables had been taken out of the bins and replaced with paper copies of a map you can use to drive to the farm,” she wrote. “Why on earth would somebody design a forum software this way?”

She also had issues navigating the digital content, the course readings, and library databases that were not integrated into the software.

“I understand that technology is harder to do right than most people think it is,” she concluded. “I understand that there is no perfect system and there will always be bugs and glitches in something like this. I am not saying everything has to be perfect just yet. But it startled me just how little things have improved in all the years I have been taking these courses online. It’s not that we should have progressed to perfection just yet. But we should have progressed a little.”

Monday, August 3, 2015

High Schools Aren't Preparing Students

Critics are claiming college isn’t getting students ready for the workforce. Perhaps the issue starts before students even get to campus.

A 2015 survey of students, faculty, and employers found that only 14% of the instructors felt high schools did an adequate job of preparing students for college, down from 28% in a 2004 survey. Just 29% of employers felt students were ready for the workplace in 2015, compared to 49% in 2004.

High schools are doing well at teaching computers and technology, teamwork, and verbal communications. Unfortunately, there appear to be major gaps in student preparation involving critical thinking, comprehension of complicated content, work and study habits, writing, problem-solving, conducting research, math, and science.

A bigger issue is that students indicated in the survey they understood there were problems with their high school education. Nearly 90% said they would have worked harder if expectations for earning a diploma were higher and 20% said it was “easy to slide by.”

“We know that our schools can do a better job of preparing students for success in their next steps,” Michael Cohen, president of the not-for-profit educational organization that sponsored the survey, said in a report in Campus Technology. “We hear students saying that they are certain they would have worked harder in high school if they’d been held to higher expectations. It’s critical that schools clearly communicate the expectations of colleges and employers early in a student’s high school experience and help them understand the coursework they will need to complete. When we set rigorous expectations, students can and will rise to the challenge.”