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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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prep Students Use MOOCs to Start College

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are making it easier for high school students to explore the choices offered in college before they ever apply.

According to a report from U.S. News & World Report, MOOCs allows high school students to gauge their interest in potential majors and gain exposure to courses and instruction at the college level.

Taking a MOOC can also provide the extracurricular activities college admissions officers like to see. Experts say students should list MOOCs they’ve completed on admissions applications, or at least mention they’ve taken the classes in the “additional information” section of the application.

“They’re really one of many activities that students can do to enrich their learning, and that’s really how we look at them,” said Stu Schmill, dean of admissions and student financial services, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Day

The NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, along with our colleagues in California and Washington, D.C., salute all veterans on this Memorial Day.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Facebook May Help Retain MOOC Students

A new study reported that Facebook may play a role in keeping students in massive open online courses (MOOCs). The research compared student use of MOOC message boards and course Facebook groups, noting that students seemed more engaged in the Facebook groups.

Students told researchers they preferred Facebook to the MOOC communication tools because it was a real community where they are already regularly connected, according to a report in eCampus News. Students also said they believe Facebook has better collaboration tools and instructor involvement on the social media network.

“In previous studies, we found that the real challenge for MOOC developers and instructors is trying to keep students engaged and enrolled in the course,” said Saijing Zheg, a co-author of the report and a research scientist at Microsoft. “In this study, we are finding that social media tools may be one way to keep students engaged in a MOOC.”

The researchers found students tend to be more willing to reveal their true identities on Facebook, while they make up names for the MOOC message boards. In addition, students said they had more ways to connect with instructors on Facebook.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blockchain Makes Keeping Records Easier

Technology developed alongside the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin may provide colleges and universities with an inexpensive and secure way to handle student records. Blockchain makes it possible to deposit information to a global network that is both publicly available and secure.

“Because of the design of the blockchain-distributed database, it cannot go down and cannot be altered, making the data always available and secure … the blockchain does this free of charge,” Sylvain Kalache, co-founder at Holberton School in San Francisco, said in a report for CNBC. The software engineering institution was established as a project-based alternative to college and plans to share academic certificates on blockchain starting next year.

Universities can use blockchain to provide microcourse and microcredential verification, as well as to track and record student coursework. The technology also makes it possible to easily control who views student transcripts and to securely transmit the data.

“The technology has the potential to realize an entirely new infrastructure for sharing records securely over the network in any number of ways, opening new doors of possibility for academic records and how they are assessed,” Sony Global Education said in a press release last February announcing plans for its own blockchain service.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Higher Ed Sustains 17% Whack from States

The economic disaster of the past decade has clearly taken its toll on higher education, as states have trimmed funding for colleges and universities by an average of 17% since 2008, according to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and policy institute.

The situation was worse a year ago. Since then, the study indicated, 38 states have restored some of the lost funding, by an average of 4%. However, the cuts in some states have been pretty deep. Arizona slashed hi-ed funding by 55.6%, while Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Pennsylvania all reduced postsecondary spending by more than a third. Thirty-one other states enacted double-digit cutbacks.

Translated into hard dollars, the drop in funding amounts to $1,525 per student on average. That ranges from $103 per student in Alaska to $4,602 per student in Louisiana.

Four states did boost their higher education budgets during this time, including North Dakota, where the booming economy allowed the state to pump 46% more into postsecondary schooling, about $3,823 per student. In Wyoming, where higher education has been subsidized to a greater extent than in many other states, the 21% increase in funding represented $3,025 per student.

The report noted that institutions have answered the funding cuts by eliminating programs, services, and staff. Schools have also raised tuition, from 4.8% in Montana up to Arizona’s 87.8%. (Percentages are for the average tuition actually paid by students, not the maximum “published” tuition fee.)

The study found the rise in tuition, in turn, caused more students to assume more debt, forced some students to drop out, and deterred others from enrolling.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Taking a Look at Online Master's Degrees

The online master’s degree being offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, has earned praise from students enrolled in the Online Master of Science Computer Science (OMS CS) program. And what’s not to love about a program at a highly respected institution that requires no entrance exam and costs less than $7,000?

Some worry it may be too good to be true, but William Fenton, contributing editor for PC Magazine, took a closer look and liked a lot of what he found. Now in its third year, the program offers four areas of specialization, compared to 11 with the traditional master’s program, and is still working on ancillary services such as career counseling.

However, Fenton was impressed by the program’s accessibility. The OMS CS costs a third of the traditional program and its enrollment standards only require undergraduates to earn a 3.0 grade point average or higher in computer science at an accredited undergraduate institution.

Fenton still has concerns about the program’s corporate sponsors, but admitted the Georgia Tech partnerships with Udacity and AT&T work. The school shares revenue with Udacity for its platform, support, and consistent styling, while AT&T provides investments and students.

The program does rely on teaching assistants to keep pace with grading and enrollment hasn’t been as diverse as hoped. U.S. citizens make up 80% of the online class, with more than 700 applicants already having advanced degrees and more than 120 holding Ph.Ds.

“While the OMS CS degree may not democratize higher education, it doesn’t cannibalize it,” Fenton wrote. “In addition, all the buzz around Georgia Tech’s OMS CS degree is driving interest in the university in general and in its computer science programs in particular.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

How Will Overtime Rules Affect Students?

The Obama administration released rules that will require employers, including colleges and universities, to pay overtime to more employees. The new regulation, which becomes effective on Dec. 1, increases the salary threshold for employees eligible for overtime from $23,660 to $47,476.

Many in higher education are concerned about the potential impact on student services and instruction. There are exemptions to the rule related to higher education, but those are primarily for employees providing instruction.

“The new rule will increase many lower-level, salaried employees into hourly workers who are eligible for overtime pay. But requiring such a dramatic and costly change to be implemented so quickly will leave many colleges with no choice but to respond to this regulation with a combination of tuition increases, service reductions, and, possibly, layoffs,” the American Council on Education said in a press release criticizing the rules.

The rules are expected to have a significant impact on college store management, so NACS is partnering with the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources to present a webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern May 25 on the new regulations. The webinar is free, but advanced registration is required.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Strong Websites Help Attract Students

A recent study found that online information helps students decide on the institution they want to attend. Digital Search for Education surveyed more than 1,500 full- and part-time students in the United States to learn how they interact with colleges before enrolling.

According to the report, 58% of the students said online reviews were highly important to the school-selection process, while 20% said online reviews had the most influence on their choice. The school’s website was the most important factor in the selection process, with 56% of students saying that was their primary source for information about programs of interest.

More than half of the students said they used search engines to research the schools they were interested in attending and 43% reported being most influenced to click on search results that had information that was relevant to them. However, 32% also said they would leave a school’s site if it had poor navigation tools.

The study reported that 32% of students follow the schools in which they are interested on social media, with 62% using Facebook. At the same time, 41% said they contact the school through email directly and 75% added they preferred schools to contact them by email, phone, or text message.

Despite the emphasis on digital communication in the selection process, 31% of the students also cited an on-campus visit as the primary reason for enrolling in a particular institution.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

CU System Is Monetizing MOOCs

The University of Colorado has generated about $110,000 since September from massive open online courses (MOOCs) because students are willing to pay for certificates of completion.

The CU system partnered with Coursera in 2013, producing dozens of courses for the MOOC provider, including several multicourse units on a single topic that have been particularly successful at earning revenue.

“A specialization is a cluster of courses that ends with a capstone project, and what Coursera has found—and we’ve found this, too—is that these specializations, these clusters of courses are really marketable and really valuable to people in the marketplace,” Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement for the CU system, said in an article for eCampus News.

The courses have been rated so highly that the business faculty on the Denver campus voted to accept a Coursera specialization certificate in data warehousing as a transfer credit that admitted students can apply toward the 30-credit master’s degree in information systems.

“That lowers the cost of attendance for students,” Keyek-Franssen said. “The business school understands that this is a way to recruit students into the program and they have full faith in the quality of the specialization because it’s been taught and is being built by their own faculty.”

The Boulder campus doesn’t accept certificates as transfer credits yet, but is looking into the possibility. Provost Russ Moore told eCampus News he needed “strong evidence” that students earning online certificates were getting the same level of instruction as those on campus, but does see the partnership with Coursera as a way to introduce people to the institution.

“In a way, it’s a different way of marketing what CU-Boulder has to offer on a broader scale,” he said. “[Professor] William Kuskin’s comic-book course, the first go-around, had 40,000 people sign up, so that’s a great way to get the word out.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

K-12 Digital Use May Prompt Hi-Ed Change

K-12 institutions are continuing to shift from paper-based instructional materials to using more digital resources, according to the fall 2015 Speak Up research findings from Project Tomorrow, released on May 5. The move may ultimately impact higher education as well, as these students head into college.

“Many more schools are demonstrating greater use of digital content, tools, and resources today than six years ago and we believe that the increasing adoption of interactive, visual media in the classroom by teachers is the driver for much of that change,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “The explosion in teacher interest and usage of videos and game-based learning could be a harbinger of a new awakening for digital learning.”

Although 30% of teachers report using online textbooks for their classes, up from 21% in 2012, the biggest jumps have been with videos and gaming. Some 68% of teachers showed videos they discovered online (47% in 2012), while 48% of teachers used some type of gaming environment in their classes (just 30% in 2012). Videos were more common in middle- and high-school grades, while gaming was more prevalent in lower elementary classes.

The role of videos and animations in the classroom was somewhat surprising. While teachers often chose these materials to help explain more complicated concepts or instigate class discussion, they were more apt to use videos as a means to introduce a new lesson topic or to review concepts learned in the past—especially for science and math subjects.

The Speak Up survey report, From Print to Pixel, also determined that younger teachers tended to make use of digital materials more often than their older colleagues, although across the board teachers said they need more help in learning the best ways to use digital content in the classroom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Blackboard, Uber Team to Provide Rides

Finding a ride on campus just got a little easier for students. Blackboard, the learning management system used by many colleges and universities, has partnered with Uber Technologies to provide students with a way to schedule transportation using their campus-card account.

Students will be able to use the Uber smartphone application to arrange for cars and pay for the ride through Blackboard Transact, which provides cashless payment options. The program provides students with a dedicated “specific use” purse that can be established in the Blackboard Transact campus-card system which allows for deposits and payments.

“We believe this program provides students with reliable transportation options at any time—particularly when it may be unsafe for that student to get behind the wheel,” said David Marr, senior vice president for Blackboard Transact. “We hope this innovative partnership will encourage responsible transportation decisions by ensuring availability of funds and ease of access.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Are Mobile Devices Addictive?

A new survey from Common Sense Media reports teens think they may be addicted to their mobile devices. The poll of 1,240 parents and teens from the same household found that half of the teens said they were addicted to their device, while nearly 60% of the parents agreed.

About a third of the kids said they try to reduce the amount of time they spend using a mobile device and 66% said devices were not allowed at the dinner table. However, 72% of the teens said they felt it was necessary to respond to texts, social networking messages, and other notifications immediately, while 78% said they check their devices hourly.

The parents may be addicted as well, since 48% said they responded to messages immediately and 69% check their device hourly.

“What we’ve discovered is that kids and parents feel addicted to their mobile devices, that it is causing daily conflict in homes, and that families are concerned about the consequences,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, in a report for eSchool News. “We also know that problematic media use can negatively affect children’s development and that multitasking can harm learning and performance. As a society, we all have the responsibility to take media use and addiction seriously and make sure parents have the information to help them make smart choices for their families.”

Friday, May 13, 2016

Using Music Videos to Teach Science

The idea that music can teach science has shown enough potential that a website has been created for K-12 instructors to find music videos that provide students with scientific content. Now, a study has been conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, to find out if it actually works.

The research, published in the International Journal of Science Education, tested the hypothesis that scientific content can be learned through songs, by studying more than 1,000 students using 16 music videos in three separate tests.

The first test of students, ages 8-17, found that those who watched a music video that delivered scientific content did learn some of the information that was provided. A second test found no evidence that the music video helped students when compared to a traditional instructional video, although it was more enjoyable to watch.

A third group of New Zealand seventh- and eighth-graders were randomly assigned to watch a music video about fossils and compared to another group that was assigned a video with the same content but with no music. Both groups showed improvement on test scores immediately after watching the video, but the group that watched the music video did a better job on assessment tests 28 days later.

“These studies are only preliminary, but point to the promise of novel approaches to formal science instruction,” Tania Lombrozo, psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an article for National Public Radio. “Incorporating music and other media might not only have mnemonic benefits, but also help make science more accessible and more engaging to a broad range of students.”

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Inventive Ways to Cheat Online

Cheating on an online exam is actually pretty infrequent, according to a report from Examity. The online proctoring company reviewed more than 62,000 online final exams it proctored last fall and found that just 6% violated exam rules.

However, those students who did cheat were caught in some very interesting ways. The five boldest cheats included:
  • The mom of a test-taker hiding under the desk to provide the answers.
  • Someone outside of the exam room coughing the answers in Morse code.
  • A mom take an exam who hid a cheat sheet inside her baby’s bassinet.
  • Faking a coughing fit to get a cheat sheet out of the back of a test-taker’s throat.
  • Hiring a professional to take the exam.

Examity reported that 21% of the students it caught were using a cheat sheet and 14% used Google to search for answers. The company also reported that 5% simply hid flashcards under their keyboards and 3% hung the answers on a nearby wall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing Out Lecture Notes Is Still Best

Students believe that typing notes during a lecture is faster than writing them down by hand. They are right, but faster does not necessarily mean better.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have found that while taking notes by hand is slower, students using that method perform better in class. Part of the issue is a tendency to try to type notes verbatim because the student can type faster, according to researchers  Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA.

“The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective—because you can’t write as fast as you type,” Mueller said in an interview for National Public Radio. “And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”
For the study, Mueller and Oppenheimer had university students listen to TED talks on various subjects. The first study group typed notes on a laptop, while the second wrote out their notes. Both groups did well remembering simple facts such as dates, but the students using their laptops did much worse when asked questions that were more conceptual in nature.

The researchers got the same results when they told students using laptops for note-taking to avoid writing things down verbatim. In a third study, Mueller and Oppenheimer gave students the chance to review their notes before testing, but students who wrote out their notes still performed better.

“This is suggestive evidence that longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer wrote in an article appeared in Psychological Science.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Webinar to Decipher Creative Commons Licensing

Many higher education institutions are encouraging their faculty to explore open educational resources as a means to reduce costs for students. Some online resources have a Creative Commons license, and faculty considering creating their own class materials may also want to attach a license to deter commercial poaching.

With six different types of Creative Commons licenses available, determining appropriate usage for each may be a little confusing, especially for educational purposes. To help clarify, NACS is hosting a free webinar on Thursday, May 19, at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Course Materials: Exploring Creative Commons’ Licenses in Higher Education will explain the six kinds of licenses, along with the two public-domain tools creators can use. The presentation will also cover misperceptions about Creative Commons licensing, as well as ways the campus store and other campus partners can apply licensing to develop options for students, such as print versions of online materials.

Presenting the webinar will be Cable Green, director of open education for Creative Commons.

Although the webinar is free, thanks to support from the NACS Foundation, advance registration is required. Registrants who do not already have a NACS web login will need to create a free account before registering.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Colorado Plans for 3-Year Online Degrees

One possible way to lower the cost of higher education is to create degree programs that take less time to complete than the traditional four years. The University of Colorado, Boulder, has launched a grant program to get the effort started.

The CU system is asking faculty and staff to compete for three grants of $200,000 to develop fully online degree programs that can be completed in three calendar years. The university hopes to announce the grant recipients by the end of September and have the program running by 2018.

The program must be delivered by faculty from at least two of the CU campuses. The degree must also be in high demand and marketable since a key factor for the entries will be the number of new students they bring to the university.

“We’re counting on the innovation of our faculty and staff to be able to develop three-year, fully online programs that are going to meet the needs of students in high-demand areas in Colorado and beyond,” Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system, said in a report in eCampus News.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Go Easy with Gaming in the Classroom

Gaming is being tried by instructors at every level as a creative way to engage and educate students. While games have a place in the classroom, they may be much less effective than expected.

Vic Vuchic, chief innovation officer and executive director of Digital Promise Global, told attendees at the 2016 Textbook Affordability Conference, held April 27-29 at the University of California, Davis, that games are so perfectly designed for the task performed in the game that information doesn’t always translate beyond the competition itself.

“To be honest, the hype is far beyond what the research is showing us is happening,” Vuchic said during a question-and-answer session that followed his presentation Collaborative and Innovation as Course Materials Strategy.  “If you learn something in a game, generally, when you step out of that game and have to apply it somewhere else, you really won’t be able to do it.”

Vuchic told the audience about work done at Stanford University by Daniel Schwartz, dean of the institution’s graduate school of education, that showed games are most helpful when direct instruction was part of the coursework. In the experiment, Schwartz had one test group play a game and then provided instruction before a test was given. A second group only played the game before the assessment and a third only received direct instruction.

“It ends up that the ones who played the game and got direct instruction far outperformed the others,” he said. “You get some loose concepts in understanding games, but it’s not enough to bring it home. Someone has to anchor it and say, ‘This is the theory.’”

Vuchic’s presentation was streamed live on the NACS Facebook page. Here is the entire 53-minute video:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Computers Consume the Most Bandwidth

College and university IT departments know students using smartphones and tablet computers to play games or stream movies eat up plenty of bandwidth. However, traditional computers are the biggest bandwidth hogs, according to a new report from the Association for College and University Technology Advancement and the Association of Colleges and University Housing Officers-International.

The survey of IT leaders, housing officers, and business officers at more than 360 colleges and universities for 2016 State of ResNet found that computers consumed 58.6% of the bandwidth used on campus. Tablet computers came next, at 57.7%, and mobile phones were third at 55.2%.

Participants were asked to rank devices by the severity of bandwidth consumption on a 1-10 scale with 8-10 being the area that used the most. The 58.6% result is down from the 76.5% the category registered in 2015, but it was the second year in a row that traditional computers topped the list.

“In previous years of the study, tablets were forecast as the largest bandwidth consumer in the years to come,” wrote authors of the report. “However, these past two years show a change as desktop and laptop computers take over the top spot and are now gateways to many disruptive applications, which may require even more bandwidth than ever before. Through these devices, students have found a larger canvas for complex games, virtual learning, 3-D modeling software, computer animation, or simply storing photos and videos.”

Nearly 49% of the IT professionals surveyed said that media devices such as Roku and Apple TV were in the severe 8-10 range, while gaming systems rounded out the top five at 41.9%. Just 7.4% of the respondents put e-readers in the 8-10 category.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Students OK with Digital When It's the Right Kind

Yes, a majority of college students still say they prefer to study from print textbooks rather than digital, often due to the ease of flipping back and forth or marking up pages. But sometimes their opinion depends on the type of digital materials.

Digital course materials can include pages scanned (complete with streaks and cut-off paragraphs) and converted into PDFs that are posted in the learning management system. At the other end of the spectrum, digital materials may feature an array of interactive, multimedia tools designed to help students master the content. And then there’s everything in between.

Which type of digital materials do students like best? The answer is obvious: the interactive, multimedia kind. When that’s the type of course content faculty assign, students’ opinion of digital materials becomes more favorable.

OnCampus Research, in its monthly survey of college students conducted last February, found that “55% of students are finding particular value in the electronic study tools being incorporated into some digital platforms,” according to a summary of findings. When step-by-step homework assistance was available as part of digital course materials, 85% of the students actively used it and 66% rated the tools as extremely valuable. Sixty-one percent gave the same rating to searchability (being able to search the materials by keyword or topic).

However, those capabilities don’t seem to boost purchases of digital. “Not surprisingly, though, the primary reason students choose digital isn’t the features, but because they feel it’s less expensive than print (59%),” according to OnCampus Research.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

More Malware Attacks, Harder to Detect

Malware attacks are happening more often and are harder to detect, according to the State of the Endpoint Report from the Ponemon Institute. Of the 694 IT security administrators surveyed, the number of respondents with a strategy in place to deal with malware fell from 43% in 2015 to 38% this year.

The report found that 68% had experienced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, where multiple systems are used to target a single system. In addition, 80% said that they believed their mobile endpoints—defined as laptops, desktops, smartphones, printers, POS machines, or ATMs—had been targets, up from 58% in 2015.

As troubling as that may sound, a bigger concern involves employees. More than 80% of respondents said the biggest threat to endpoint security was negligent or careless employees who don’t follow security policies.

“You’ve got how many different types of laptops? How many versions of Windows? How many applications for those devices? How many phone types, etc.?” asked Michael Davis, chief technology officer of the security start-up firm CounterTack in an article for InformationWeek. “IT has to struggle with all of that variation, while also trying to enforce a standard set of security protocols. And then, on top of that, they have to deal with the end user, so it’s very difficult to enforce anything, even from a purely technology perspective.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Students Go to Court over Online Program

The number of academic leaders who view online learning as on par with face-to-face instruction fell from 71% in 2014 to 63% in 2015, according to the Online Report Card—Tracking Online Education in the United States. Just 29% of the administrators surveyed said faculty members accepted the value of online education, the lowest percentage since 2004.

A group of students is challenging the idea of online education in court, suing George Washington University for the quality of its online master’s degree program in security and safety leadership. The students allege the program failed to provide the same level of instruction and interaction as the traditional classroom version of the program. The suit claims instructors were unresponsive and barely involved in facilitating the student-center coursework.

The suit also refers to a May 2013 letter to the university president signed by 11 students complaining about the quality of the program. The university issued an apology at the time, but has done nothing more about the online course, according to a report from Inside Higher Education.

“The misrepresentations are designed to present the program as something that is not: a credible, longstanding program, with courses and content specifically designed for the online learning environment,” the complaint reads. “In reality, at the time the plaintiffs applied for the online program, there were not graduates to the program and the ‘content’ mostly consisted of scanned-in PDFs of textbooks (with blurry pages and sentences cut off) and PowerPoint slides taken from in-class courses, without any narration or explication.”