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, October 30, 2015

Need to Know About OER? Cram It

The concept of open educational resources (OER) is simple—materials are made available for all to reuse and possibly adapt, often at no fee—but putting the concept into action for college courses is a bit more complicated. How can schools efficiently get these materials to students?

OER Cram Session, hosted by NACS on Nov. 18-20, will offer a three-day schedule of live webinars and audio conferences featuring case studies, solutions, and ideas for effective management and distribution of open resources. Any professional in higher education can take part in any or all of these free events, although registration is required for each webinar in order to provide log-in details.

Several webinars focus on how campus stores are helping to facilitate the use of open resources at their institutions. Although many resources can be accessed online for free, faculty may request assistance in collating links for students or downloading materials into the school’s system. To accommodate students who prefer to study from hardcopies, stores have also been able to provide inexpensive print versions of OER materials.

In addition to the live events, a variety of free resources on OER—background information, links to repositories and programs, and articles—are also available from the Cram Session.

NACS members will also be able access recordings of the live events later on The Hub, NACS’ online connected community.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tool That Can Write Textbooks

The old notion that machines will someday replace workers may soon apply to academia. A Pennsylvania State University professor used a robot to build a textbook that he claims saved students $16,000 last semester.

Bart Pursel assembled a textbook for his Information, People, and Technology class using BbookX, a technology developed at Penn State that helps faculty use open-source materials to create content according to topics and keywords. Using the technology, Pursel was able to distribute the textbook to his class for free.

BbookX starts with an instructor creating a digital table of contents and assigning each chapter a topic with text or related keywords. The tool then uses matching algorithms to quickly gather content, according to the university release.

The university is also exploring ways to allow the content to be changed and updated. Professors will still have to review the titles, but the goal is to provide instructors choices to build a better book in the same way Netflix bases movie selections on what a viewer has previously watched.

“While building my textbook, I came across subjects and topics I hadn’t known about before,” Pursel said in a blog for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I was able to learn something new and then pass that along to my students.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Online Learning Perception Gap Remains

The gap between what administrators and faculty members think about the quality of online education has widened, according to the 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology. However, the groups do agree that textbooks are too expensive.

The survey, conducted by Gallup, of 2,175 faculty members and 105 administrators found that 63% of faculty members and 84% of administrators said they believe investment in educational technology is money well spent. At the same time, just 20% of faculty and 17% of administrators have seen significant gains in student outcomes.

Just 17% of responding faculty members said for-credit online courses have student outcomes at least equivalent to those taught in person, down from 26% in the 2014 survey. The numbers for administrators were much more positive, as 62% said online courses were of the same quality as in-person classes. That number rises to 88% if the course is being offered at the administrator’s institution.

When it comes to course materials, 93% of faculty and 98% of administrators said they believe they are too expensive. Open educational resources (OER) get high marks, with 92% of faculty and 97% of administrators agreeing that instructors should assign such content more often. However, Inside Higher Ed has also conducted research that found many faculty members have never heard of OER, and those who have don’t know where to find such materials.

“These new data from Gallup make it clear that faculty understand the problems with textbooks and other commercial course materials and are very positive of OER,” said David Wiley, chief academic officer of Lumen Learning. “Both moves significantly decrease students’ cost to graduate while increasing faculty’s pedagogical flexibility.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Student Assessment Tool Being Developed

The U.S. Department of Education awarded Excelsior College a $1.9 million grant to develop a solution colleges and universities can use to evaluate students’ readiness  for college-level work. The Diagnostic Assessment and Achievement of College Skills (DAACS) will be an open-source tool that allows institutions to identify at-risk students and provide them the resources necessary to succeed.

The program is designed to offer students feedback on their weaknesses and provide information for relearning content, according to a report in eCampus News. DAACS will include academic and nonacademic (i.e., academic self-regulation and test anxiety) evaluations so college and universities will have a better understanding of students and develop learning strategies based on their needs.

“Because of its focus on generating actionable feedback and its direct link to effective support services and resources, DAACS has the potential to empower and enable students to become more purposeful and strategic learners,” said Timothy Cleary, associate professor, Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. “This project is particularly exciting because it can positively influence the ways in which students—as well as faculty—respond to the inevitable challenges and struggles that so many students experience during college.”

Rutgers University and the University at Albany, Albany, NY, are partners with Excelsior on the DAACS project. Once the tool is finished, Excelsior and Western Governors University will conduct pilot studies on its usefulness.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Apple Loses Patent Suit to UW

Apple’s losing streak in court continued as a jury in U.S. District Court found the company infringed on a 1998 patent held by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, when it used certain processors in the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and some iPads. InformationWeek reported that Apple has been ordered to pay $234 million in damages.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which filed the suit, was asking for $400 million. The foundation filed a second lawsuit in September, claiming Apple’s new A9 and A9X processors used in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus and the iPad Pro also infringe on its patents.

Apple claimed the patent was invalid, but the jury in the Madison District Court disagreed. The research foundation also said it had offered the license to Apple for a fee.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the plaintiff made an aggressive push for willfulness enhancements,” Florian Mueller, an expert in patent-infringement lawsuits, told Forbes. “But in the past, damages awards of this proportion have typically been reduced on appeal.”

The university filed the patent for technology that enhanced the efficiency of computer processors in 1998. When the research foundation, which handles licensing of technology invented by university researchers, sued Intel for infringing on the same patent, it ended up with a $110 million lump-sum settlement.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tool Puts Store into Content Discussion

There’s a new tool that can help college stores be part of course-materials discussions. SIPX Campus makes it possible for campus entities, such as the college store, to set up course readings on behalf of instructors.

The tool is one of three created by ProQuest SIPX, a provider of digital course material solutions. SIPX Central allows instructors to select course readings through a self-service, cloud-based interface. SIPX for MOOCs enables course readings for massive open online courses to be organized for an institution by the company’s service team and simplifies copyright permissions, according to a report for Campus Technology.

The tools also provide free access to course-relevant content to students, tools for sharing nonsubscribed copyrighted materials, and analytics to monitor student engagement with assignments. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Online Students Getting Younger

Students’ comfort level with online educational programs is growing, in part because so many students now take online courses in high school.

For instance, Florida high school students are required to take at least one online course to graduate, while community colleges across the country continue to offer more courses in online and hybrid formats. That has led to an increase in the number of online undergraduates ages 18-24, according to a 2015 survey from Aslanian Market Research and The Learning House.

“They’re a lot more comfortable than, I think, even five years, 10 years ago, just in terms of using that technology,” Andrea Reese, chair of online studies at Daytona State College, said of online students in U.S. News and World Report. “That intimidation factor is gone.”

Nearly 1,800 students ages 18-24 enrolled for the 2013-14 academic year in the online Pennsylvania State University-World Campus, a 60% increase over the year before. The age group made up 21% of the entire undergraduate online student body, a 3% increase over the 2012-13 school year, according to Karen Pollack, assistant vice provost for the undergraduate online and blended programs.

“Possibly living at home, not paying room and board, having the flexibility that they can work 10-15 hours a week to help fund their college education—that is their reality,” Pollack said of the PSU-World Campus experience. “Given the circumstances, it’s their best option.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

MIT Pilots Online Master's Program

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is giving inverted admissions a try in a pilot for students in its supply chain management (SCM) master’s degree program. Students who successfully complete the first semester of SCM courses online will become eligible for admission to the Cambridge, MA, campus for one semester to complete the degree.

“Inverted admission has the potential to disrupt traditional modes of access to higher education,” said Sanjay Sarma, dean of digital learning, in a report for MIT News. “We’re democratizing access to a master’s program for learners worldwide.”

The pilot includes a new academic credential developed by MIT called MicroMaster’s. Students will earn the digital credential after taking a proctored examination of materials covered in first-semester classes from MITx, the portfolio of free MIT courses available online through the interactive learning platform edX.

There are no admissions requirements for the courses, which are available to anyone interested in taking them. Learners will have to pay a small fee to have their MicroMaster’s verified, but then they can apply for admissions to the semester on campus with the MicroMaster’s worth a semester of MIT credit.

“The rising cost of education, combined with the transformative potential of online teaching and learning technologies, presents a long-term challenge that no university can afford to ignore,” said MIT President Rafael Reif. “At MIT, we are choosing to meet this challenge directly by assessing the educational model that has served the institute so well for so long. We are experimenting boldly with ideas to enhance the education we offer our own students and to lower the barriers to access for learners around the world.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Open E-Textbooks Slammed for Errors

Writing digital textbooks intended for free use by educators may not be as easy as it seems.

A group of Michigan social studies teachers, as part of the Michigan Open Book Project, spent a year developing e-textbooks for four subjects: high school economics, sixth-grade world geography, fourth-grade U.S. regions, and fifth-grade American history. Funded by a $600,000 state education grant, the project’s aim is to create books any Michigan school system can download at no charge.

However, the first four books were released in August to heavy criticism. “Some textbook experts and educators around the state are so disturbed by factual inaccuracies, poor grammar, overgeneralizations, clumsy word choices, and cultural insensitivity, they are recommending teachers not use them in their classrooms,” reported The Detroit News.

One curriculum reviewer said all four books “need significant editing and revision, if not complete rewriting.”

David A. Johnson, director of the Open Book Project, said the teachers selected to write the books were encouraged to create the kind of resource they would want to deploy in their own classrooms. He noted that since the books are solely online, errors can be revised within 48 hours. A tab on the download site includes a fill-in form for submitting errors and the process for evaluating submissions.

The Open Book Project intends to produce more e-books over the next two years. In development during the current school year are books for third-grade Michigan history, seventh-grade ancient world history, eighth- and ninth-grade American history, and high school civics. Planned for development in the 2016-17 academic year are books for K-2 and high school world history.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Affordable Textbook Act Reintroduced

The Affordable College Textbook Act never got off the ground when it was introduced in 2013. Now, it’s being reintroduced as Congress works on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The act, sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) in the U.S. Senate and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) in the House of Representatives, would encourage the use of open-access textbooks by providing grants to schools to make free or low-cost digital content available to professors, students, and researchers.

The grant process would allow schools to conduct pilots aimed at expanding the use of open educational resources as a way to lower college expenses to students. Applicants would have to provide estimates on the potential cost savings, with priority placed on programs that save students the most.

Publishers would be required to make all textbooks and educational materials available for sale as individual pieces of content, rather than as a bundle. It also requires the Government Accountability Office to provide updates on price trends of college textbooks.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Amazon Expanding Staffed Pick-up Spots

Amazon continues to make a push on campus, now listing job opportunities at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses of the University of California and the University of Cincinnati. The listing appears on the company’s website and offers candidates $13.15 per hour to work at new Campus Pick-Up Point (CPP) locations.

The CPP program began last February to provide students living in dorms or apartments near campus with an easy way to receive their online orders from Amazon. It’s also seen as part of a move into the college market that includes co-branded websites with UC Davis and Purdue University and taking over course materials operations at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, according to a report in Fortune.

The Cincinnati Business Courier reported that Amazon took out a building permit in a building development near the Cincinnati campus and lists Nov. 13, 2015, as the approximate start date for employees of at that location.

However, the job postings and building permits don’t necessarily mean there’s a partnership between Amazon and the universities.  According to Fortune, a spokesperson for UC Santa Barbara said the school was not associated with any Amazon venture.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mobile Use of Digital on the Rise

Mobile devices now account for nearly two-thirds of all digital minutes consumed, which shouldn’t come as much of a shock to collegiate retailers. However, that number is up 11% since 2013, according to a report from Digital Content Next (DCN).

The comScore 2015 Mobile App Report found that 62% of all digital usage is on mobile phones, with users spending more than 44% of their time using smartphone apps. The study also reported that fewer users turn on their desktops to go online, with digital usage at 38%, down from 49% two years ago.

The most mobile-app visits are to Facebook and Google, with Facebook accounting for nearly 126 million unique visitors. Millennials average nearly 26 hours a month on Facebook and spend two hours a day on social and entertainment apps.

“Mobile offers publishers a unique opportunity to expand their brand across platforms,” wrote Rande Price, research director of DCN. “It’s also a key opportunity to attract millennials as long-term and engaged users.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Newest Entry in Social Media Race

KakaoTalk is a no-cost messaging app that sends messages, photos, videos, and voice notes for free. It also may be the next big thing on campus.

The app even allows users to make free conference calls over WiFi, according to Joshua Kim, a technology writer for Inside Higher Education. He reported in in early September that a number of his Korean in-laws were already using the app and wondered how long it would take before he would start seeing students using it on campus.

Apparently not very long at all. By the end of September, KakaoTalk was being offered in the App and Google Play stores as a free download, along with a smartwatch app. The key features include fast and reliable messaging, no matter the network, with free multimedia and voice call functions. Users can also see who reads their messages, send messages while in other chatrooms, and schedule appointments. It even has mobile games to play.

“From watching how my family uses KakaoTalk, I could envision a wholesale retreat from Facebook,” Kim wrote. “Facebook is too broad, too slow, and populated with too many people. KakaoTalk could be the next big higher-ed thing because it is not Facebook.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Learning App Connects ESL Students

A number of studies have shown that students often learn concepts more quickly and thoroughly when they collaborate and help each other. With that in mind, Canada-based entrepreneur Mark Kim, working with a team of developers, created an app that allows students to tap into a social network as a means of learning English as a second language (ESL).

The new app, dubbed English on the Go, enables instructors to post short lectures from their smartphone or other mobile device. Students then access lectures from their own phones and can archive selected ones into an electronic notebook. Kim is in the process of recruiting instructors from around the world to offer English lessons in their own language, although students can opt for lessons delivered in English.

Users of the app can follow each other to practice everyday English, ask questions, and share their own knowledge and experience—such as how English terminology might vary, depending on the country or region.

The app is intended more for personal improvement than university-level academic study—lectures and user contributions are organized into themes such as food, shopping, and basketball—but it’s not hard to see how a social network available anywhere might help ramp up a student’s language skills more quickly than in-class presentations and practice sessions. The same might work for complex subjects such as mathematics or chemistry.

The copywriter for the English on the Go website might even benefit from using the app for a few lessons. According to the site, the app “is never neatly and professionally defined lectures produced in the studio, which is old-fashioned but it is live, fast reaching and real English lessons delivered by instructors from English speaking countries.”

Monday, October 12, 2015

E-Book Readership May Be Hard to Track

Are e-books gaining on print books, or losing steam? It appears to depend on who you ask.

Not long ago The New York Times kicked off the debate with an article based on sales data from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which purported to show that e-book sales drooped by 10% in the first five months of 2015. “E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television,” The Times claimed.

But wait, said The Digital Reader. Its piece noted the AAP’s sales figures failed to take into account some $1.79 billion worth of e-book transactions. “While the majority of the AAP monthly data about e-book revenues comes from the Big Five U.S. trade publishers, the majority of the non-AAP e-book revenues goes to self-published e-books and indie-published e-books,” The Digital Reader said.

For its part, The Wall Street Journal did report that the Big Five saw dwindling e-book sales after they negotiated new agency contracts to set higher retail prices.

A new Pew Research Center report indicated more readers are borrowing e-books from their local libraries. In a survey of library patrons aged 16 and up, 27% had downloaded or borrowed at least one digital book in the previous year, compared to 22% in 2012.

The Bookseller cited a YouthSight survey of 1,000 respondents aged 16-24, which found 64% preferred to read print books over digital ones. Surveys of college students, conducted by NACS’ OnCampus Research, also indicate they’d rather be reading on paper, but they’ll buy e-textbooks if the price is substantially cheaper or to fill an immediate need.

E-book subscription services, often touted as a NetFlix for e-book readers, have had trouble getting off the ground and a couple of high-profile companies recently closed, as chronicled by Mashable. The problem there, though, wasn’t a lack of readers; it boiled down to publishers not agreeing to terms that left enough margin to sustain the services.

Friday, October 9, 2015

More Shoppers Consult Amazon First

When it comes to searching for products on the web, many consumers treat Amazon like a regular Internet search engine.

In a new Survata study of American consumers, a sizable 44% indicated they head straight for Amazon’s website when they want to shop for a particular product. That means other retailers—especially smaller, independent ones—don’t even get a chance to compete for those shoppers online, unless somehow Amazon doesn’t carry the item.

Amazon’s personalization technology received high marks from respondents, with 75% saying other online sellers don’t come close and 87% indicating they’d rather do business with a site capable of ascertaining their needs and guiding them to suggested products.

Retailers have a little more opportunity to snag a sale with 34% of the survey respondents who said they look for products first on the major search engines, notably Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Just 21% of survey-takers habitually begin their search for products at a specific retail merchant.

Of consumers who use their smartphone to shop, the biggest reason (given by 47%) was to obtain information on products and prices.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is the Amazon Six-Pack Headed to School?

Amazon is offering a six-pack of $50 Amazon Fire tablet computers for the price of five. The question is, why?

According to Adam Levy of The Motley Fool, this latest foray into tablet sales could be Amazon taking aim at the K-12 educational market. Levy points out that the number of people with families big enough to actually want six tablets might be limited. He also said that since schools are making more use of tablets, the low-cost Amazon device could be a lot more attractive than an iPad for schools facing budget issues.

“I’m not so sure Adam is really on the money here,” wrote Chris Meadows in a post for TeleRead. “iPads have a really good reputation as educational devices after all, and have built up a considerable library of quality software to aid in that purpose. Does Amazon’s software library have the educational chops necessary to compete?”

Amazon is certainly trying to develop customers for life. A company representative told the audience in an education session at CAMEX 2015 in Atlanta that’s why it is interested in on-campus locations. And what better way to do create lifetime customers than to have children using its operating system while in K-12?

However, Meadows said he believes the schools aren’t going to be thrilled that Amazon installed special advertising software into the Fire tablets that promotes its products. He also said that at less than $43, the Amazon Fire could be so inexpensive that many shoppers will see it as disposable, and may want to the six-pack just to have replacements handy.

“The point is, I don’t think it’s necessary to assume that families won’t buy into those six-packs, therefore they must be aimed at an education market,” Meadows wrote. “More than likely, some schools will be interested, but I suspect that more than enough families and even individuals will want to buy the bundles for that not to be an issue.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Study Finds Students Need to Read

Students may not like this, but some digital textbooks can tell instructors just how much of the course reading they are actually doing. The digital text can even determine if a student fell asleep with the book open.

Not surprisingly, a new study found students who spent more time actually reading their textbooks—not just speed-skimming—got better grades. The survey of 269 undergraduates at Texas A&M University-San Antonio using digital content reported that the number of minutes spent reading was an important factor in getting better grades, but that students averaged less than three hours of reading per class.

“It’s not that students were overworked or required to read a crazy amount,” Reynol Junco, the Iowa State University professor who conducted the research, said in a report for Bloomberg Business. “The reading was pretty fair for college students.”

The good news, according to Junco, is that checking study habits can also help faculty identify students who are in trouble before they get a bad grade.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Competing with the Tennessee Promise

The Tennessee Promise allows high school students to earn an associate degree at the state’s 13 community colleges, providing they are full-time students, maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, meet regularly with a mentor in their field of study, and complete at least eight hours of community service.

The Promise helped community college enrollment jump 14% this fall, the first year the program was offered statewide. Tennessee’s four-year institutions had to compete with the free-tuition program, but enrollment figures still appear healthy.

“We beefed up our efforts,” Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University, Nashville, said in a report for Nashville Public Radio. “All of us have done extra work, but it looks like we overdid it because TSU enrollment is up this year.”

Enrollment figures across the six Tennessee Board of Regents schools were flat, which was actually an improvement over the trend of the last five years. Enrollment for the University of Tennessee system slipped at UT Martin and Chattanooga, but UT Knoxville reported one of its largest freshman classes ever.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Students See Benefits from MOOCs

While the Year of the MOOC didn’t pan out quite like The New York Times envisioned in 2012, there is still good news on the massive open online course front. A new study of 52,000 students who took at least one MOOC offered by Coursera found that 87% said they saw at least some career benefit from the class.

In addition, 33% of that group, which the study identified as “career builders,” said they turned the MOOC into a “tangible career benefit.”

“The tangible career benefit is a higher bar in some sense,” Gayle Christensen, assistant vice provost at the University of Washington, Seattle, and an author of the report, said in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A third of people saying that they were able to make these clear next steps is actually something one should be optimistic about.”

The report, which looked at motivations for taking a MOOC and the educational and career results participants achieved, also found that 62% of the respondents in the career-builder category improved their work performance. The survey also identified “education-seekers” as a category and found that 88% gained general educational benefits and 18% said they received tangible educational benefits.

“Going into this, I wasn’t sure what we’d find,” Christensen said. “That those students are actually reporting career and educational benefits in higher numbers is pretty exciting.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Texting May Keep Students on Track

Texting may be a new way to keep students engaged with their education, especially as they move from high school to college. It’s cheap, available nearly everywhere, and can be used to boost achievement and study habits, according to Benjamin Castleman.

Castleman, University of Virginia education professor and author of The 160-Character Solution: How Text Messaging and OtherBehavioral Strategies Can Improve Education, studied enrollment rates of students who were accepted into college but did not enroll for fall classes. He and his colleague, Lindsay Page of the University of Pittsburgh, reported that the number of students who decided not to attend college reached 40% in some school districts, particularly among lower-income and first-generation college students.

Castleman and Page used software that could send weekly text messages to high school graduates with deadline reminders, links to documents, and connection information for advisors. They found that 70% of students who received the personalized messages ended up enrolling for the fall semester, compared to 63% of students who didn’t receive the messages.

Other studies have revealed that texting student performance information to parents of middle and high school students in Los Angeles helped increase homework completion rates by 25%. Text messaging was also found to help lower dropout rates for adult learners in England by a third.

White House research uncovered similar results. A 2015 report discovered that low-cost text messages and emails got more kids to enroll and helped college borrowers to manage their student loans better.

“These types of strategies work well with some students and educational settings and not well for others,” Castleman said in an article that appeared in The Hechinger Report. “It’s not texting itself that makes these nudges successful; it’s attending to details like frequency, timing, and framing of messages.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Too Much Tech Doesn't Help Learning

A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that moderate use of technology by students tends to produce better learning outcomes. The research also noted that students who use computers frequently often have much worse learning outcomes.

The report, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making The Connection, evaluated students from 31 countries in areas such as digital skills and comparing reading comprehension between print and digital formats.

Students from Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Canada were the top performers in the digital skills assessments. Students from the United States and Canada performed better in digital reading, while those from Poland and Shanghai were stronger in reading print formats.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st-century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world,” Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said in an article in eSchool news.  “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries need to invent more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”