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, February 29, 2016

Expectations of Online Learners

Distance learners expect a lot from their online courses, and sometimes those expectations can be rather contradictory. That was the finding of a nationwide survey of 1,500 students taking online courses, according to a report in eCampus News.

Nearly 75% of the students who responded said online programs must help with their careers and must offer personalization choices. When asked, 43% said they preferred electronic course materials and 33% said they wanted paper textbooks.

Respondents also said online courses should include shorter terms, generous transfer terms, and fast responses on admissions decisions, credit review, and financial-aid packaging. At the same time, students want the school to have a strong local brand because 65% live within 100 miles of the institution offering the online instruction.

About 30% of the students said they wanted their courses to be fully online, but nearly half said they would take a blended course and 22% said they found the option of on-campus courses very attractive. Students are interested in features such as low price, self-study options, and job placement rates that set a school apart from its competitors.

The institution had also better market to all ages with a great website that makes it easy to gather a wide variety of information, including tuition costs, admission requirements, and the online programs available. Students also said an online program should be affordable and provide easy access to instructors.

“The patterns and preferences of the sample of individual interviews are reflective of online students as a whole, and the data reflect a national template of the behavior and preferences of these students,” the authors of the report wrote. “College and university leaders can use this information to attract and serve this growing population. Individual institutions should also consider regional data and their position in the local marketplace.”

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gen Z Has a Different Point of View

Students from Generation Z started heading to campus in 2013. While they already make up about a third of the U.S. population, they also think differently from the millennials who came before them, according to an article for Campus Technology.

The authors of the book Generation Z Goes to College, which surveyed more than 1,100 college students from 15 schools across the country, found that Gen Z students who lived through the recession of 2008 tend to be more career-minded. They also want to find ways to influence “structural problems” that impact their own families and friends, as well as communities around the world.

They see themselves as loyal, compassionate, responsible, and open-minded, and are motivated to help and please others. At the same time, they are concerned with education, employment, and racial equality. They have little interest in a political system they view as dysfunctional.

“Millennials were raised during a budget surplus and tend to be optimistic and hopeful. Generation Z is a lot more pragmatic and down to earth,” said Corey Seemiller, who teamed with Meghan Grace on the project. “Generation Z is a little more cautious when thinking about how everything is going to be great because they have been grounded in a sense of reality by their parents, who are by and large Generation Xers, who have been deemed cynical rebels in some ways.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Online Ed Report Card Is Out

More students are taking online courses, but fewer academic leaders see virtual classes as critical to their long-term strategies, according to a new report from the Babson Survey Research Group. The study also found that fewer academic leaders rate learning outcomes of online education as equal to or superior to traditional teaching.

According to the 2015 Online Report Card—Tracking Online Education in the United States, online enrollment rose nearly 4% over 2014 figures, with private nonprofit schools showing an 11.3% increase. Private for-profit institutions went the other way, with enrollments shrinking by nearly 3%. Public colleges and universities also had the largest number of students in distance education, with more than 70% of undergraduates and almost 40% of graduate students taking online classes.

However, the number of administrators who said they believe that online learning was critical to their institutions fell from 71% in 2014 to 63% in 2015. Administrators who thought learning outcomes compared favorably with face-to-face instruction also slipped, from 77% in 2014 to 71% last year. In addition, 29% of administrators said their faculty members accept the value of online education, a lower rate than the percentage recorded in 2004.

There was more positive news when it comes to massive open online courses (MOOCs). The percentage of institutions offering MOOCs rose from 2.6% in 2012 to 8% in 2014 to 11% in 2015. However, 59% of schools said they have no plans to offer MOOCs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Passwords Are Becoming So Passé

Passwords can be something of a pain. It’s recommended that users create unique keywords for each device and account, but the tendency for most is to use the same password multiple times or make them so simplistic that they often are easy for hackers to access.

That could soon change as Apple, Yahoo, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are all working on ways to eliminate the password altogether, at least on mobile devices. Alphabet is testing a password-free program for signing into accounts with a smartphone, while Apple introduced its Touch ID fingerprint biometric feature with the iPhone 5S.

“Twenty years ago, I never could have imagined the world we live in today, and I’m sure the next decade will be just as unpredictable,” Gerhard Eschebeck, head of security and privacy engineering for Google, said in a report for CBS News. “But I’m also sure that 10 years from now, whether we’re changing legacy systems like passwords or taking on new challenges like networked devices and the Internet of Things, working together to share security knowledge and solutions will be our best shot at handling whatever challenges the future throws at us.”

The Google program includes what it’s calling a “security key” to the standard two-step verification process. The security key uses encryption to make sure only the user who has the key can access the account. Google is trying to develop technology that allows Android users to respond to alerts with their phones instead of passwords, and recognizes the user through speech patterns and typing, according to a report in InformationWeek.

The Apple Touch ID feature allows users to log in with the touch of a finger, but only a small percentage of apps take advantage of the option. However, iOS developers are in the process of creating more apps that use Touch ID.

Yahoo launched a mobile mail app last October called Account Key that requires users to confirm an attempt to log into an account through a notification sent to the smartphone, according to a report in TechCrunch. At the same time, Microsoft is working on a biometrics security feature for its Windows 10 operating system.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Student Shoppers Mix Web and Store Visits

Since college students spend a great deal of time on their phones, does that mean they prefer to shop with their digits instead of heading to a physical store? Not necessarily.

According to the latest monthly student survey conducted by NACS OnCampus Research, students tend to blend their online and in-person shopping. For instance, the majority of students still buy most clothing during visits to bricks-and-mortar locations. However, 27% will go online first to look up information before they set off for the store.

Conversely, 21% of students said they browsed apparel in a physical store prior to actually placing their order online.

The same is true of technology products. While 41% of students said they bought tech merchandise online, another 43% researched tech products on the web before making the purchase at a store.

More than two-thirds of students do visit the websites of online-only retailers, such as eBay and Amazon, at least once a month, with about a quarter doing so every week. Whether they’re shopping online or in a physical store, price is still the most important facet in deciding what and where to buy. Free shipping was important to 56% of respondents. Convenience and product quality still matter to students, but not nearly as much as cost.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Amazon Not Likely to Open 400 Locations

It caused quite a stir when a shopping-mall executive speculated that Amazon was planning to open as many as 400 physical bookstores around the nation. Amazon calls its plans more modest, which means Amazon Bookstores are still going to be popping up.

Rich Bellis, associate editor at Fast Company, predicted that the Amazon stores will be hybrids combining showroom, warehouse, pickup lockers, and books. He based that on the bookstore the online retailer already opened in Seattle and the model it has opened on some college campuses, which have simply been staffed order-and-pickup locations.

Bellis also said Amazon watched Barnes & Noble have trouble incorporating the Nook device into its stores and has learned from that lesson.

“It’s a physical bookseller with a failed digital business,” Bellis wrote. “Amazon has never been in that position and knows better than to put itself there. Instead, it may see physical locations as (among other things) more akin to Apple Stores, where it can showcase the hardware it sells online, with books being the sorts of things you might grab on your way out, like a new iPhone case.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Malware Targets Android Phones

Most college students can’t function without their smartphone nearby. If it’s an Android device, there’s a malware that could make their lives miserable.

The malware, called Mazar Android Bot, is spread through a text message with a malicious link that takes over the user’s device, according to a report from ITProPortal. The text alerts the user that a multimedia message has been sent and includes a link to view the message.

The user is then prompted to download the package with the malware that bears a generic name such as “MMS Messaging” to make it look like a legitimate application.

Once downloaded, the malware alerts the attacker that a new device has been compromised. The malware can install a proxy application that lets the attacker intercept all Internet traffic on the device. It also makes it possible for man-in-the-middle attacks, which are used to steal account logins, social media credentials, and banking information.

Security experts believe the malware is of Russian origin because Mazar Bot can’t be installed on phones owned by Russians. The bad news is that as it spreads the malware is likely to evolve into new forms.

“Attackers may be testing this new type of Android malware to see how they can improve their tactics and reach their final goals, which probably is making more money,” Andra Zaharia, a security specialist at Heimdal Security, said in a report for MSN.com. “We can expect this malware to expand its reach.”

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Microsoft Buys Keyboard Developer

Microsoft has purchased keyboard software developer SwiftKey, adding it to its own keyboard software, Word Flow. The software is used to make it easier and faster to type on a smartphone touchscreen by finding patterns that identify words users are trying to type.

SwiftKey’s work with artificial-intelligence techniques to speed up typing was part of the reason for the purchase, according to a report in PC World. A new SwiftKey keyboard launched last fall has shown it can provide users more privacy and security by doing a better job of predicting words to use.

The surprise part of the move is that Word Flow is releasing versions for Android and iOS keyboards’ software, something already offered by SwiftKey. Microsoft has no plans to shut down either SwiftKey app, according to Harry Schum, executive vice president for technology and research for Microsoft.

“We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS, as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and service portfolio,” Schum wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Digital Library Textbooks Not an Ideal Fix

Sooner or later, any discussion about making course materials more affordable comes around to this question: Why not publish all textbooks in digital format and make them available through the campus library?

That always seems like the perfect solution to people who aren’t actually involved in creating, acquiring, or using textbooks. For college students and researchers, digital materials via the library represent a mixed bag. The campus newspaper at the University of Virginia-Wise aptly highlighted some of those plusses and minuses.

On the up side, through database subscriptions, libraries can provide access to digital materials that they wouldn’t be able to acquire in print. Conversely, the Highland Cavalier noted, some older databases are stored on CD-ROMs, which makes them inaccessible to users of new computers that don’t have a CD slot.

Unlike print copies, libraries don’t own all of the digital works in their catalogs. Access is lost when the subscription lapses or if a publisher terminates a title. In any case, many textbooks don’t tap into the extra functionality offered by digital technologies because they were created specifically for print consumption.

“Most textbook authors do not have the expertise to create this kind of [digital] content,” a mathematics professor and textbook author told the Highland Cavalier article. “As long as a book exists in both digital and paper form, there is a desire to keep the two versions similar.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Critics Troubled by New MOOC Fees

The mission of massive open online course (MOOC) platform Coursera is to “provide universal access to the world’s best education,” according to its website. Critics are starting to wonder if that mission still holds after Coursera announced it would begin charging fees for a group of courses it calls Specializations.

Coursera offered learners the option of taking a course for free or paying $49 for an identity-verified course certificate upon completion. They could also choose the free version first and add the pay option during the run of the class. Learners taking a Specialization course are still able to choose to view course materials and view-only access to graded assignments for free, but must pay an up-front charge to start or prepay for the entire program for credit.

Last year, Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera, said Specializations would help the company build a sustainable business model. Critics see the shift as the unfortunate but inevitable outcome of a firm satisfying its investors.

“It is dismaying to see the so-called Silicon Valley ‘hypesters’ and geniuses failing to deliver on promised change,” George Siemens of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab, University of Texas at Arlington, said in a blog post for Inside Higher Ed. “The deep pool of visionary and re-architected future ended up being about as thick as a dollar bill.”

Monday, February 15, 2016

HEA Rewrite Unlikely in 2016

While presidential candidates debate the pros and cons of their plans for education, the chances that Congress will reauthorize the Higher Education Act in 2016 are moving from slim to none as each day passes. The law that was passed in 2008 was supposed to expire in 2014, but has continued through automatic extensions or other congressional action.

Most observers see a comprehensive rewrite of HEA as a longshot during a presidential election year. In addition, it’s thought that any new administration will not have reauthorization high on its list of legislative priorities once it takes office next January, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed.

“I don’t see any real possibility of the House and Senate passing two bills, reconciling them together, and sending something to the president,” said Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “The better question is: Will we actually see bills introduced in the committees? That, to me, would be progress.”

While there is some hope among experts that lawmakers may still be able to pass smaller bills this year, many areas of disagreement remain and must be worked out. Even in an area such as financial aid simplification, getting a bill in front of the House or Senate will not be easy despite bipartisan support.

“I do think we’ll see some legislative language and more people showing their cards,” Draeger said. “At least then we’ll have something we can work with and react to.”

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are Fitness Bands a Security Risk?

A new report found that most of the popular fitness trackers do a bit more than just count the number of steps the user has taken. They let others in on your progress as well.

In the early draft of Every Step You Fake: A Comparative Analysis of Fitness Tracker Privacy and Security, the Canadian nonprofit Open Effect said that all the devices it studied transmitted a unique Bluetooth identifier that can be tracked by beacons that many retailers are using to recognize their customers. Only the Apple Watch had a technique to block the beacons, according to a report in PC World.

The bands can be tracked even if they’re not paired with a smartphone, according to the researchers. Companion apps for the wearables also leak login credentials, allowing users to submit fake tracking information.

“In the course of our technical investigations into transmission security, data integrity, and Bluetooth privacy, we discovered several issues that confirm concerns about the potential uses of fitness-tracking data beyond the typical case of a user monitoring their own personal wellness,” wrote the authors of the report. “The fitness data generated by several wearable devices can be falsified by motivated parties, calling into question the degree to which this data should be relied up for insurance or legal purposes.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

ConTEXT Looks at New Era of Textbooks

College textbook formats and how students acquire their reading materials have changed considerably in the past decade, as the report Mapping the Learning Content Ecosystem has documented. What these changes mean and how they affect the foreseeable future for faculty, students, publishers, and sellers of content will be explored at Campus Market Expo 2016 (CAMEX), March 4-8 in Houston, TX.

ConTEXT, a mini-conference within CAMEX focusing on textbooks and technology, will take a look at new strategies and best practices, from digital formats and open educational resources to adaptive learning products and text-with-tuition models. Speakers will include Andy Hines, assistant professor and coordinator of the Foresight Program at the University of Houston, who will discuss how to make sense of the shifting course materials landscape.

“Thinking about students, how will the changes in their lives and needs influence higher education and approaches to learning?” Hines wrote in a recent article for The College Store magazine. “These changes may ultimately redefine the notion of what a course material is, as coursework spills over into work, play, relationships, and even participation in civic life.”

The ConTEXT track will feature 15 educational sessions related to course materials. The ConTEXT educational program is underwritten by the NACS Foundation, with support from Follett.

In addition, two showcases—custom/digital content solutions on March 4 and adaptive learning products on March 5—will give an overview of new products and services for academic content and how they benefit students and faculty. Among the participating suppliers are LAD Custom Publishing, RedShelf, XanEdu, Cengage Learning, Elsevier-Health Sciences, Pearson Education, and Wiley.

CAMEX attendees will also be able to learn more at the ConTEXT Pavilion during the trade show (March 6-8). Most of the exhibiting companies involved in course content and materials will be located in the vicinity of the pavilion and many will be demonstrating products in the ConTEXT Presentation Theater.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lynn Switching from Minis to iPad Pros

Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL, made headlines with its pilot program to provide 750 students with iPad minis for the fall 2013 semester. The initiative worked so well the device was given to all undergraduate students and new MBA and doctoral students in 2014.

Lynn is upping the ante once again by providing 1,800 iPad Pros with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil included to undergrads and faculty. The school made the switch because of the improved performance and multitasking abilities of the device. The keyboard is more convenient for students to use, while the pencil expands the multitouch powers, according to the university’s website.

The school claims its iPad initiative has reduced costs for students, who no longer have to bring a personal computer or laptop to campus. The program has also allowed the school to replace traditional textbooks with custom e-textbooks.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Devices Distract, But Students Don't Care

New research has found that students waste about one-fifth of their class time on their digital devices. The average student uses a device for nonclass purposes 11.43 times each class, up from 10.93 times in 2013, despite the fact they understand such behavior could harm their grades.

The report Digital Distractions in the Classroom PhaseII: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes also asked students why they look at their devices during class. Nearly 63% said they were doing it to stay connected, but about the same amount said they were checking their phones because they were bored, according to a report from Inside Higher Education.

Students overwhelmingly said they didn’t want their devices banned because they didn’t believe the gadgets were a significant distraction. They also said they should be able to use their gadgets whenever they want. Fewer than 12% admitted that they just couldn’t stop themselves.

“This speaks qualitatively to their feeling that they should be the ones to decide when and how to use their digital devices,” said Bernard R. McCoy, associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and author of the report. “It’s a part of what’s now factored into the classroom, and it’s a reality we all have to think about.”

McCoy surveyed 675 students at four-year institutions in 26 states. Nearly 90% of them said they understood that not paying attention was a disadvantage of using digital devices in the classroom, while 80% knew that the distraction could lead them to miss an instruction.

However, the students also assumed also they could handle their devices, with 58% saying it was just a “little” distraction. Only 39% admitted checking their device distracted others and 42% added that it was only a “little distraction” if it did bother other students.

“To me it’s fascinating, interesting, and a little scary all at once,” McCoy said. “If you take a look at the habits of society in general, technology is more available to us than ever before. Then you think about millennials. They are true digital natives. They’ve only known the Internet and the technologies associated with it.”

Monday, February 8, 2016

Google Has Shipped Millions of VR Devices

Virtual reality (VR) has become a really, really big thing, and Google has the numbers to prove it.

The company recently reported it shipped five million units of its Cardboard virtual-reality platform in two years. That includes devices that were sold by third-party retailers along with ones given away by Google.

The Google numbers also show that Cardboard has been installed through the Google Play Store more than 25 million times and users have watched more than 350,000 hours of YouTube videos through the app. On the education front, more than 500,000 students have taken VR field trips using the device, according to a report in VentureBeat.

While Google has competition for the VR space, Oculus Rift is still several weeks away from shipping and the HTC Vive is still not available for preorder. And Apple has only just begun to explore the potential of VR, which puts it way behind in the market.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Apple Climbs Aboard VR Bandwagon

Apple hasn’t yet been a player in the expanding world of virtual reality, but that could be about to change with the addition of Doug Bowman to its staff.

Bowman’s last job was as a computer science professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, and director of its Center for Human-Computer Interaction. He’s also the main author of 3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice, considered one of the most important textbooks on 3-D interface technology. He recently received a $100,000 research grant from Microsoft to analyze the uses of the Microsoft Hololens VR headset.

With virtual reality about to become a $5 billion industry, according to Newsweek, it’s hard to ignore. Besides, investors are nervous about Apple and the slowing pace of iPhone sales.

“But with Bowman coming on board recently, according to the Financial Times, Apple may just be saying it’s ready to make virtual reality an actual reality in its product lines,” said tech writer Rex Crum in an article for SiliconBeat.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Use MOOCs to Support Student Success

Many students head off to college still needing preparation for entry-level college courses, particularly at the community college level. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are often seen as a way to offer a flexible and affordable way to improve those skills without paying for remedial classes.

However, MOOCs are also self-directed and self-paced, which can be a problem. Research has shown that community college students in particular struggle with online learning environments, according to Matt Lawson, principal architect at NetApp, who suggested that the solution lies in the support the institution provides its students.

“Of particular significance with MOOCs on community college campuses is identification and support of students at academic risk,” Lawson wrote in a column for eCampus News. “Big data and analytics are a formidable tool that can help identify these at-risk students and thereby enable much-needed proactive intervention to help those students succeed in college.”

While serving as director of enterprise services for community colleges in Virginia, Lawson found that student engagement could be recorded through the number of times they clicked into the online courseware. Using that information allowed the system to determine which students were engaged with the material and which were struggling.

“This sort of targeted intervention can prove critical at the community college level, and could prove to be a boost to student retention and attrition—two top goals of any institution of higher education,” he wrote.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Production Trumps Consumption

One conundrum in the digital education world is consumption vs. production, according to Inside Higher Ed’s tech blogger Joshua Kim. Consuming content is more convenient on mobile devices, while producing that content is easier on a laptop or desktop computer.

“What this means for education, I think, is that we need to design our content primarily for mobile,” Kim wrote. “Anything that has to do with consumption will occur on a small touchscreen. Our text, presentations, and videos all need to be designed mobile first.”

However, don’t toss the laptop just yet. The keyboard makes the device much more important in the digital world because keyboards on mobile devices are simply too small to be useful. And, to Kim, writing remains at the heart of education.

“After having spent a few weeks with the new $169 iPad Pro Smart Keyboard (the combined case and keyboard), I can tell you that it is not something that you will want to use for any serious writing,” he wrote. “We should be suspicious of any education program that is mobile-only. Mobile-first, sure, but not mobile-only. Any good postsecondary program should stress production over consumption.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Seven Issues for Campus Stores

Since college stores have been in the business of providing textbooks to students for many decades, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that affordable course materials heads the list of the seven top issues facing the college store industry right now.

NACS member-volunteers spent months identifying all the issues impacting stores and then condensing and winnowing the list to the seven most critical challenges. Stores’ efforts to help ensure all students have affordable access to course materials on the first day of class emerged as No. 1.

Stores have built relationships with publishers and distributors to help faculty understand the available options for materials, including customized versions and open-source materials. As more course materials are offered in digital formats (sometimes solely in digital), it’s often stores that end up assisting students in figuring out how to access their electronic assignments. Because students still strongly prefer to study from paper—digital products don’t yet offer the same ease of use—campus stores have stepped up to furnish hard-copy options for digital or online materials and to seek out more sources of lower-cost used books to stock.

While some students believe they can achieve good grades without textbooks, research shows that those who regularly read their assignments are more likely to attain better grades and persist to graduation. That starts with making sure students aren’t deterred by the price of materials.

However, the issue of affordable course materials has another side for campus stores: conflicting goals. While most higher education institutions are trying to hold down costs for students, including textbooks, they also expect their campus stores to generate more revenue from sales.

The six other issues on the top-seven list are:
2. The student experience: providing goods and services to enhance students’ campus experience and boost their connection to the institution.
3. The retail experience: furnishing strong customer service and extending the school’s brand.
4. Campus collaboration and communication: working closely with other campus entities to support the institution’s mission.
5. Retail technologies: making good use of technology to improve operations, service, and communications.
6. Talent development: strengthening the store’s performance by investing in its employees.
7. Business stewardship and strategy: being aware of trends and issues and readying a strategy for response.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Middle Schoolers Earning College Credit

Many school districts around the nation provide ways for high school students to earn college credit. Hayward, CA, may be the only one making that same offer to middle school students.

Instructors from Chabot College are teaching everything from early childhood development to engineering to five middle schools in the Hayward area. Each of the schools can offer one class per semester and credits the students earn are transferable after high school graduation.

The goal of the program is to provide college exposure for the youngsters, many of whom come from low-income families, according to a report from EdSource.

“As long as they can handle it, it’s good to challenge them,” said David Farbman, senior researcher for the National Center on Time and Learning. “You don’t want to push kids too hard, but given the right support, they can achieve at high levels.”

Chabot College chooses courses middle schools students should be able to handle and Hayward district staffers select students they think are ready to take the classes. The district also has an after-school staff to help students complete their work. State and federal after-school program grants fund the offering.

Over the first three semesters of the program, 175 students enrolled in classes, with some taking more than one. Students completed 72% of the classes with a grade of C or better, according to data from Chabot College.

“No one can tell them they’re not college material,” said Chien Wu-Fernandez, assistant superintendent of student and family services for the Hayward Unified School District. “They have just proved that they are.”