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, January 29, 2016

Really Low-Cost Computers Are Here

The notion that improvements in technology normally lead to lower costs for consumers is taken to an extreme with some of the new devices hitting the market, such as the CHIP computer.

The CHIP website calls the device the world’s first $9 computer. It’s about the size of a credit card and has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities built in, a 1GHz processor, four gigabytes of storage, and 512 MB of RAM. Keyboard, screen, and mouse are not part of the package, but CHIP can connect to any Bluetooth device and has a USB port to plug into older accessories.

Next Thing Co. created CHIP through a Kickstarter campaign that got the backing of nearly 40,000 people and raised $2 million, according to a report by National Public Radio. A teacher from the Nelson County Area Technology Center, Bardstown, KY, contributed $150 to the campaign and was selected to test the device in the classroom. Students at the school have used CHIP to rewire Star Wars toys with LED lights.

“This is one way to do it, by intriguing their interest and seeing what’s on the cutting edge of technology,’” said Jeremy Booher, principal of the school. “If we were still using typewriters and using Microsoft DOS, then obviously people come in and fall asleep.”

The CHIP is just one of a number of low-cost basic computers now on the market or coming soon. They have been made possible because the price of microprocessors and computer components has fallen so dramatically.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Microsoft Aquires MinecraftEdu

Microsoft participated in a Minecraft coding effort last year as part of the annual Hour of Code campaign from Code.org. Now, the Seattle-based software company has acquired MinecraftEdu, a firm that makes a version of the popular video game modified for the classroom, and is planning the launch of Minecraft Education Edition for the summer.

The MinecraftEdu version includes additions that make the original game more appropriate for a K-12 setting. It features a multiplayer mode for up to 40 students and offers a cloud-based system to host Minecraft classroom servers with a library of lessons and activities.

In addition, the Learning Tools add-on provides teachers special text-formatting options that make reading, writing, and note-taking easier. Other features include reading with audiotext playback and natural-language processing, according to a report in InformationWeek.

Microsoft plans to keep the user price at $5 per year, but will make a free trial version of the software available this summer, according to VentureBeat.

“One of the reasons Minecraft fits so well in the classroom is because it’s a common, creative playground,” said Vu Bui, chief operating officer of Mojang, a game-based development firm that created Minecraft and was acquired by Microsoft in 2014, in a report for eSchool News. “We’ve seen that Minecraft transcends the differences in teaching and learning styles of education systems around the world. It’s an open space where people can come together and build a lesson around nearly anything.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Hands-On Approach to Textbook Affordability

If you attend the 2016 Textbook Affordability Conference (April 27-29 at the University of California, Davis), you’ll have a hand in developing potential solutions to ensure all college students have access to the course materials they need, regardless of format.

Conferees will spend part of the time collaborating in teams to further discuss the ideas and challenges presented by speakers. Teams will explore creation of a course content model that meets the needs of students as well as higher education campuses and their partners.

In the opening keynote, Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor, student affairs and campus diversity, UC Davis, will examine the importance of supporting student success.

At the conclusion of the conference, Lisa Petrides, president, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, and Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer, Civitas Learning, will talk about next steps and strategies in a “fireside-chat” session. Milliron was also a Thought Leader presenter at NACS’ 2014 Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) conference and trade show, identifying several rising trends for college course materials.

Registration will open soon. Sign up to receive notification when it does. Discounts are available to institutions who register three or more professionals. Five hotels within walking distance of the Davis campus are offering special rates to conference attendees for a limited time.

With coordination by NACS, planning partners for the 2016 conference include the Association of American Publishers-Higher Education, California Association of College Stores, The California State University’s Affordable Learning Solutions, NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and OpenStax.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Apple Working on LiFi Technology

Improvements in technology seem to travel at light speed. Soon, that could be literally true.

A report in Computerworld suggests Apple is considering supporting LiFI transmission, a superfast wireless transmission technology that uses light to send data. The technology is not seen as a replacement for the popular wireless networking technology known as WiFi, but as a companion technology designed for home networks.

LiFi is similar to optical cable transmission, except scientists haven’t figured out how to create accurate light transmissions without using cable, at least not yet. Researchers predict that LiFI speeds could eventually reach 110 gigabytes per second faster than WiFi.

“A LiFi network can be programmed to achieve specific tasks, such as guiding a Yamaha home robot to its bed before turning off the light. The network can also track and localize moving objects/persons indoors, outdoors, and from indoors to outdoors,” according to the LiFi Centre.

AppleInsider already reported that the company began mentioning LiFi capability with the iOS 9.1 operating system’s library cache file. LiFi technology is beginning to reach markets, but the Computerworld report predicted that any deployment by Apple is still 24-48 months away.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bitcoin's Days May Be Numbered

Bitcoin has “failed,” according to one of its core developers. Mike Hearn said in a blog post that he was ending his involvement with the organization and is selling his holdings.

“Despite knowing that bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly,” Hearn said in a report from Reuters.

The issue for Hearn is the battle over whether the size of bitcoin transactions should be enlarged. Currently, each bitcoin block has a capacity of one megabyte and allows a maximum of three payments to be processed per second.

Hearn helped to develop software that would increase each transaction block to eight megabytes and allow 24 transactions to be processed every second. The new software has not been adopted, leading him to claim that the bitcoin network will soon run out of capacity as the number of transactions grows, making the network unreliable and vulnerable to fraud.

Bitcoin trading slipped from $430 to $390 after Hearn published his post.

“The current price of bitcoin is supported almost entirely by people speculating on its future, in the assumption that this could be the money of tomorrow,” he said. “So if the network starts to collapse, then a lot of people are going to look at it and say, ‘Well, maybe we’ve miscalculated (its) future value.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Put Some Fashion into Wearable Tech

Many college stores have climbed aboard the wearable technology bandwagon, offering tech-savvy students any number of fitness-band options. Next, collegiate retailers may want to start thinking about shelves full of smart clothes.

“No one in the industry wants to admit it,  but the wrist is probably not the best place to stick a bunch of sensors, and activity tracking many not even be the best use for all those sensors,” Malarie Gokey wrote in an article for Digital Trends. “If we want wearables to become truly wearable, companies need to start looking at the clothes we wear every day of our lives. And if we want those wearables to be truly useful, we need to think beyond step counting and create tech that gives actionable suggestions to improve our well-being.”

Companies are making inroads into the wearable clothing field, but the focus has been fitness metrics. That trend is starting to change as manufacturers discover that garments provide opportunities for customization while stilling looking like normal clothing.

“The possibilities are endless,” Gokey wrote.  “Smart clothing has the potential to break wearables out of their fitness funk and make them go mainstream. If wearables are ever going to take off, they have to be fashionable, look like normal clothes and accessories, and do more than tell you your step count.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Microchip Using Light Is Being Developed

The high demand for speed and volume limits traditional microprocessor chips that use electrical circuits to communicate and transfer information. That could be about to change as researchers work on a chip that uses light instead.

The light-based technology, known as photonics, reduces the energy used in a microchip because light can travel over longer distances using the same amount of power, according to a report in The Economic Times. The new chips have the potential to create faster and more powerful computing systems.

The new microchip has a bandwidth density of 300 gigabits per second per square millimeter, which is at least 10 times greater than current electric microchips. It also incorporates the optical input/output components of current state-of-the-art electronic circuitry, creating an integrated, single-chip design.

“Light-based integrated circuits could lead to radical changes in computing and network chip architecture in applications ranging from smartphones to supercomputers to large data centers, something computer architects have already begun work on in anticipation of the arrival of this technology,” said Milos Popovic, assistant professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

U.S. News Names Top Online Programs

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide and Pennsylvania State University-World Campus were named the best online bachelor’s degree programs by U.S. News & World Report. The 2016 report ranks the academic quality of more than 1,200 U.S.-based distance-learning degree programs.

Only degree-granting programs at accredited institutions are considered for the rankings. Student engagement, faculty credentials, student services, and technology are among the categories used to rank the programs.

“Online learning is becoming an integral part of higher education, and consumers are hungry for information related to legitimate online degrees,” Anita Narayan, managing editor of education at U.S. News, said in an article for eCampus News. “The Best Online Program rankings can help prospective students begin their search for a program that suits both their academic and career goals, as well as their work and family schedules.”

Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, was ranked first for the second straight year for its online MBA program, while Indiana University-Bloomington earned the top spot for its non-MBA business program. Other top-ranked online programs were Boston University for criminal justice; University of Florida for education; University of South Carolina for nursing; University of California Los Angeles for engineering, and the University of Southern California for computer information technology.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Apple Updates Its Education Platform

The Google Chromebook has become the tech tool of choice for many K-12 schools, but Apple isn’t going to let the business just walk away without a fight. The computer company is revamping its iOS education platform that allows student sharing of a single device.

“Apple is clearly gunning for Chromebooks,” Eric Zeman wrote in a post for InformationWeek. “The iPad maker would prefer to see students using its tablet instead of Google’s inexpensive laptops.”

Using the new Apple platform, students will be able to log into any school-issued iPad with their Apple ID and find their individual apps, books, and documents on the device. The Shared iPad feature uses a photo login system so students find their assigned iPads. There’s also a PIN system to make it easier for younger children to log on.

The new iOS 9.3 upgrade lets teachers launch and close apps remotely. The Screen View feature allows teachers to view what’s on a student’s iPad at any time and provides locks to keep students on task, according to a report in MacRumors.

“Apple’s strategy means to make tablets more flexible in the classroom, both for teachers and their students,” Igor Bonifacic wrote in a tech blog for MobileSyrup. “With iPad sales stalling over the last two years, this could be a way to spur sales, especially of older, less expensive models.”

Monday, January 18, 2016

Liberal Arts Group Starts Academic Press

Faculty members from liberal arts schools now have a new and easier way to publish research material. Lever Press, an initiative from liberal arts colleges that make up the Oberlin Group, was launched to provide scholars who feel “disenfranchised” by large publishing firms with an outlet to make their work available.

“This is all about libraries thinking about scholarly communication in a new way and putting their money where their mouths are,” Charles T. Watkinson, director of the University of Michigan Press and associate university librarian for publishing, said in an article for Inside Higher Education.

The Lever Initiative conducted a faculty survey in 2013 that showed little satisfaction with options in the publishing market. That information led the Oberlin Group to begin work on establishing the publishing enterprise.

Amherst College Press was selected for the project because of its expertise as a digital-first, open-access publisher and will head the editorial side of the venture. Michigan Publishing, a division of the University of Michigan Library, was selected for its knowledge in distribution, publishing platforms, and other technical areas.

Nearly half of the 80 members that make up the Oberlin Group have pledged more than $1 million to fund the press, which plans to publish 60 titles over the next five years.

“Those of us who are supporting this would like to see a serious systemwide transformation of scholarly publishing,” said Bryn I. Geffert, librarian at Amherst College. “If liberal arts institutions are serious about that, they have to put some skin in the game.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

More Twitter Characters Does Make Sense

Twitter is expected to raise the number of characters in a tweet from 140 to 10,000 sometime in the next few months, according to a report in Re/code. It’s a move that makes sense to business writer Thomas Claburn.

In a column for InformationWeek, Claburn said the move could make Twitter a more valuable advertising platform and allow it to offer news-publishing services, such as the one Facebook provides with its Instant Articles. Another way it could boost revenues for the company is by keeping users on the site longer instead of sending them to other sites through links as it currently does.

Twitter is testing a format that only shows 140 characters with a link that expands the message to reveal the rest of the content. The idea, according to Re/code, is to retain the look and feel of the users’ timeline.

“Twitter needs all the revenue growth it can get,” Claburn wrote. “Its stock price remains below its IPO debut last year. Whether or not epic tweets become a reality, Twitter needs ways to generate more revenue.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Distance Learners Need Support

New research found that first-year online students have incorrect notions about how the educational process will work. That leads to unrealistic study choices and could be a major factor in high dropout rates for online learning.

The report, Stories from Students in Their First Semester of Distance Learning, was compiled from video diaries of 20 first-time full-time online students by the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. The study showed that factors such as family circumstances and employment directly influence the study habits and motivation of the students.

Researchers noted how students perceive the flexibility and the self-paced nature of online courses can lead some to ignore assignments viewed as nonessential and to disengage from the course. Those preconceived notions make it more important for institutions to provide support students during the enrollment period, according to a report in eCampus News.

The data indicated that a strong sense of belonging keeps students engaged in a course and that digital skills are important, especially for older students. The researchers also found a “high-risk” period near the end of the semester, when institutional support services can help keep students on track.

“Distance providers and prospective students alike need to work together to design what is achievable in a way that is not just a crude calculation of hours available, predicated on the ill-formed assumption that distance learning is a ‘lone wolf’ experience offering more flexibility than on-campus learning,” the authors of the report wrote. “Courses need to be designed to complement their busy lives and support services need to adequately help them survive beyond the first few weeks in an environment that is most likely starkly different from that of a campus learner.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Profs, Students Like Tech But Need Help

College students and college faculty are equally interested in greater use of technology for teaching and learning, according to the latest ECAR (Educause Center for Analysis and Research) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, released in December 2015.

With both teachers and learners amenable to academic technologies, what’s keeping higher education from putting more tech tools in the classroom?

“This year’s study also suggests that the greatest current impediment is probably undersupported faculty,” said the ECAR report. “Faculty need reasonable evidence about which technologies most benefit students, and they need help incorporating those technologies into their teaching.”

The study found that students also agreed with the need for support in order for technology use to pay off. “Many of the students who have used technologies in at least one course say they could be more effective if faculty used them even more and if they (the students) were better skilled at using them,” the report said.

Students expressed a desire to try out three technologies that aren’t yet in high use: recorded lectures or lecture capture, simulations or educational games, and 3-D printers. However, while almost three-quarters of students had used e-books or e-textbooks for at least one class, fewer than half wanted professors to use them more often.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Phablets Surge in Holiday Activations

Phablets were the technology gadget of choice for many holiday gift-givers. Flurry, a firm that provides mobile advertising solutions for marketers and monetization solutions for app publishers, reported that the large-screen smartphones made up 27% of all device activations during the week leading in to Christmas, up from a 4% share of the market in 2013.

Nearly 50% of all device activations during Christmas week were of Apple products, with its phablet—the iPhone 6s Plus—accounting for 12% of the total. Samsung’s share of device activations was 19.8%, while Nokia finished with a 2% share.

The Apple activation share was actually down 2.2% from 2014. Flurry added that more than half of all Android activations were completed on phablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note or those devices popular in Asian markets. Samsung’s activation share rose 2.1% in 2015.

“This year, the larger trend Flurry uncovered was what it dubbed the ‘death of small phones,’” wrote Sarah Perez for TechCrunch. “That is, for the first time in 2015, consumers appear to be opting for phablets over smaller-screened phones. And phones with a screen smaller than 3.5 inches (e.g. most Blackberry devices) are practically extinct.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Student's View of Social Media

All those studies that say Facebook users are just getting older are true—to a point. Parents and grandparents of students are trying to figure out the social media site, but it’s still an “indispensable” part of college life, according to Drexel University senior Josh Weiss.

Weiss, an editor of the Drexel student newspaper, was asked by CNBC to write about hot trends in social media.

“Personally, I am an avid user of social media, something I am both proud and ashamed to admit in equal measures,” he wrote. “Yes, it can be a waste of time and we’ve all run out the clock, scrolling through a newsfeed we’ve seen a million times. At the same time, it allows you to stay connected with the world. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I don’t get the vast majority of my news from Facebook. I also use it to stay in touch with friends. While some students may use it at its bare minimum to stay up to date, with the world or group projects, I see it as a time-wasting means to an end.”

Facebook and Twitter are important tools at Drexel, used by student groups and the university to update people on happenings around the campus. Weiss uses both tools to provide readers with real-time updates.

He also mentioned Snapchat, Yik Yak, and Instagram as part of the social media mix at Drexel. Snapchat is becoming one of the most used platforms at the university, but Weiss suggested that Yik Yak and Instagram are primarily used to find parties or campus groups promoting their activities.

“Social media can end up running our lives—or even enabling our bad behavior—but if we harness it right, it can help us connect with people and run our lives more efficiently, old and young alike,” he wrote.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Privacy Group Complains about Google

Google has become a dominant player in educational technology, with its Chromebook making up 51% of device sales to schools in the third quarter of 2015. Part of the reason for this rise is that Chromebooks are available to school districts at a fraction of the cost of other devices and come complete with free software used by more than 50 million students and teachers worldwide.

That’s an issue for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit privacy organization, which filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing Google of collecting and data-mining Internet searches by children. The group claimed Google is using some of the collected information to sell targeted ads.

In addition, the EFF said Google is tracking user activity through the Chrome Sync feature, which automatically is turned on in Chromebooks. That tracking function is being used without parental consent, the group argued.

“In some of the schools we’ve talked to parents about, there’s literally no ability to say, ‘No,’” Nate Cardozzo, staff attorney for the EFF, told The Washington Post.

Google countered with a blog post claiming its educational apps comply with the law, while admitting that it does collect data of student activities to improve its products. In addition, both the Future of Privacy Forum, which authored the student privacy pledge that was signed by Google, and the Software and Information Industry Association sided with Google.

“We have reviewed the EFF complaint but do not believe it has merit,” said Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum.

Along with lack of parental consent, school districts are also not informing parents of online service policies. A 2013 study of found that 95% of the surveyed school districts relied on an online cloud service, but only 25% informed parents.

“Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes,” Cardozo said in a statement to CBS News. “Making such promises and failing to live up to them is a violation of FTC rules against unfair and deceptive business practices. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit center. If Google wants to use students’ data to ‘improve Google products,’ then it needs to get express consent from parents.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

MOOCs Had a Very Good Year

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) had a banner year in 2015. According to an EdSurge report, enrollment doubled to more than 35 million students, with more than 4,200 courses offered by 550 colleges and universities.

There were 2,200 courses offered for the first time in 2015, with computer science and programming courses growing by more than 10%. The MOOC listing provider Class Central analyzed reviews of the courses and determined that A Life of Happiness and Fulfilment, offered by Indian School of Business and Coursera, beat Introduction to Programing with MATLAB, offered by Vanderbilt University and Coursera, as the top-rated class of the year.

Issuing credentials to students was a top MOOC trend of 2015, with more than 100 credentials available from providers. Credentials have become the main source of revenue for both Udacity and Coursera, while edX focused on providing MOOC students with credit by teaming with Arizona State University on its Global Freshman Academy and working on partnerships with credit-granting schools.

Many MOOC providers no longer offer free certificates upon completion of a class and are now targeting high school students trying to prepare for college. The platforms also offer more than 800 self-paced classes with soft deadlines that give students plenty of flexibility for completing a course.

“In 2016, we can expect to see a lot more credentials and credits,” Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central, wrote for EdSurge. “But as MOOC providers try to aggressively monetize, early adopters many find that critical components of the learning experience will no longer be free.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

App Helps Students Pick a School

Now there’s an app to help students find the perfect college match. The “school matcher” feature added to the Prep4SAT and Prep4GMAT adaptive standardized test-prep apps uses algorithms that identify institutions that align with users’ interests.

A short survey helps determine a student’s preference on school size, tuition range, and location. The app, developed by the Boston-based firm LTG Exam Platform, then shows which strengths and weaknesses the students needs to focus on to gain admission to the college of their choice.

Teachers can use the app to track the progress of their students and develop customized lesson plans that address student weaknesses.

“Apps that are a 24/7 companion and make the best recommendations at all times will be the most useful in the future,” Elad Shoushan, founder and CEO of LTG Exam, said in an article for eCampus News. “That’s what we’re building at LTG: a 24/7 companion that effectively learns about the user in their process of learning and then aids them in the process of admissions. Why pay for an expensive course and books when a student can try a better, more personalized service for free on their phone?”

Prep4Stat is a free download in both the App and Google Play stores. It adds about 40,000 new users each month, making it the top SAT app in the Google Play store and No. 3 in the iOS store.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Students Say Social Media's for Socializing

College students regard social media sites mostly as means for catching up with friends and family and amusing themselves in their spare time. Shopping activities and connecting with brands and companies don’t rank very high on their list of primary reasons to use social media.

According to the December 2015 monthly survey fielded by NACS OnCampus Research, most students don’t mind that commercial entities are staking out turf on social media. Only 8.3% of students agreed or strongly agreed that companies, brands, and/or retailers don’t belong on social media.

About 42.7% of students responding to the survey said they don’t interact with any company, merchant, or brand through social media. The rest, however, indicated they have contact with companies and brands on Facebook (40.8%), Instagram (22.3%), Twitter (13.1%), LinkedIn (8.4%), YouTube (6.9%), Pinterest (6.9%), SnapChat (3.1%), Google+ (2.1%), and less than 2% for other sites.

It’s hard to say whether social media is helping companies attract more business from the student demographic. More than 77% of student respondents said they liked or followed a commercial site on social media because the brand or company was already one of their favorites, but about 60.7% also said they did so to get a coupon or free item. Some 38.8% clicked Like or Follow in order to enter a contest.

Many students are interested in learning about new products through social media sites (53.9%), as well as gaining tips on how to use products (42.7%).

Monday, January 4, 2016

MOOC Students Need a Little Nudge

The problem with massive open online courses (MOOCs) has nothing to do with quality of content or access, according to a Northwestern professor. Students have no compelling reason to finish.

Gad Allon conducted a study of students participating in a Coursera MOOC he was teaching, sending out email reminders to a group of 175 students who had already responded to a survey. The number of visits to the class discussion board by students who got the reminder increased by 28%, while the number of posts grew by nearly 97% when compared to the control group of 160 students who didn’t get the email.

On average, students who received email reminders visited the discussion board four more times than the students in the control group and were 13% more likely to complete the quiz the next week.

In a separate experiment, Allon invited nearly 1,000 students to take part in an online discussion about the material used in the course. Only 6% accepted the invitation, but those students were 10% more likely to complete the weekly quizzes and their scores on the tests increased by 2% to 10%.

“One of the biggest issues in education is not the lack of resources, it is actually [a lack of] commitment and accountability,” Allon said in an article for Chicago Inno. “What is really missing, and what the nudge is trying to do, though it is really clearly not enough, is to create some commitment from the students.”

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year

The NACS staff wishes you a save and successful New Year.