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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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Study Finds Classroom Noise Useful

Some teachers see conversations in the classroom as disruptions that need to stop. A professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, is using voice-recognition technology to understand if the noise could help teachers gain a better understanding of what’s going on during class.

“I think one of the things we’re noticing is that even if you are incorporating active learning, it’s very easy to focus on the students at the front of the classroom raising their hands, and this data can let teachers know whether they’ve got an equitable spread of participation across the classroom,” Amy Ogan, assistant professor of human-computer interaction at the CMU School of Computer Science, said in an article for eCampus News.

The technology provides instructors with a dashboard that displays classroom activities in different lights. Sensors analyze sounds in the room, not specific conversations. The colored lights give teachers insight into whether they should change or continue their teaching approach.

The technology suggests classroom literature for teachers on ways to better engage students who aren’t participating by sending messages to their phones between classes. Ogan and her colleagues are also working on ways to use cameras to distinguish patterns in the things students do while they are in the classroom.

“We’re working with a university right now with lots of lecturing,” she said. “When the system detects that students haven’t participated in a while, we flash a big red screen on the instructor’s laptop to notify them to incorporate some student interaction.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Students Don't Know Aid is Available

Many prospective college students and their parents are unaware they could qualify for federal financial aid, which may lead some to either take out bigger private loans to fund their schooling or not enroll in higher education at all.

A recent survey of 5,000 high school students and parents by Royall & Co., a consulting firm for enrollment and fundraising management, found that many respondents believed their household income was too high to obtain a Pell Grant or low-interest federal loan. Even in the bottom income bracket ($60,000 or less), 27% of students and 34% of parents didn’t think they could secure aid.

“In contrast, according to an EAB (Royall’s parent company) analysis of National Center for Education Statistics data, 84% of students with household incomes of less than $60,000 received Pell Grants—and many more students in this income bracket qualified for subsidized student loans,” a spokesperson for Royall said in a release.

In addition, the survey discovered that families in the lowest income bracket are more reluctant to fill out the required Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many of these families also don’t realize how much time is needed to process applications and end up submitting their forms too late to receive monies before tuition and other costs, such as buying course materials and school supplies, are due.

The full report is available from Royall.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

New Concept for Digital Textbooks

Concept maps, which represent topics that are connected in a circle or square, are normally used as a study or review tool. An assistant professor of engineering at Pennsylvania State University, Mont Alto, decided to put the map to use as a primary course resource.

Jacob Moore created the Adaptive Map Digital Textbook, which shows the topics covered as points on map. Each topic is connected with related themes and when students click on the point, they are taken to a content page that includes video lectures, example problems, and diagrams.

“A lot of people focus on students making concept maps at the end of semesters to review what they know,” Moore said in an article on Penn State News. “But another way you can use them is as a guide to help students fit smaller topics into the big picture of the course.”

The digital textbook is available on all devices and it’s free. Moore uses a Creative Commons noncommercial license to keep all code and content open-source.

“It’s not uncommon to see students skip buying textbooks just because they don’t have the money, or they split the cost with a roommate and they have to pass it back and forth all the time,” he said. “If you remove those cost barriers, everyone will have better access to these tools. With the Adaptive Map Digital Textbook, as long as students have access to a computer, they have their textbook.”

Monday, June 27, 2016

3-D Printing Sales Continue to Expand

The growth of 3-D printing is beginning to get serious. International Data Corp. (IDC) reported that 3-D printer hardware and materials were a $2.5 billion market in 2014 that increased 20% in 2015.

IDC also predicted that spending on 3-D in the education market will rise to more than $500 million over the next three years. However, most of the spending will focus on materials needed to operate the printers rather than the machines themselves.

Sales of printers that retail for less than $1,000 are projected to jump by 12% through 2020, while professional-grade printers are expected to surge by 20% or more, according to a report for Campus Technology. The higher-grade units made up 75% of total shipments in 2015.

“People and companies that are adopting 3-D printers are routinely realizing tremendous time and cost savings in their product-creation and -development cycles,” said IDC Research Director Tim Greene. “As printer speeds increase and the range of materials expands, a growing number of products and parts, and therefore markets, will be impacted by 3-D printing/additive manufacturing. Already, the 3-D printer mix in the U.S. has changed over the last 12-24 months. While there are still a lot of shipments into the do-it-yourself and consumer market, tremendous growth remains in the segments with a more professional and manufacturing orientation.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mixed Results from Adaptive-Learning Study

The largest study to date of adaptive-learning software found that results have been modest at best. Nearly 20,000 college students and 300 instructors using the most popular learning software on the market participated in the research, conducted by SRI International for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2013-15.

Students were no more likely to pass a course using adaptive-learning tools than in a traditional classroom. Researchers also found that the software by itself isn’t enough and that universities didn’t do a good job of making sure the technology being used actually worked.

The study indicated that the tools functioned better when the instructor used the same language utilized in the software during face-to-face instruction and when student usage was monitored closely. Learning results also improved when the course was redesigned around the software.

“I wouldn’t characterize our report as cynical, just cautious,” Barbara Means, director of the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International, said in an article in The Hechinger Report.  Means was also quick to point out that more and better technology has come to market since the study started in 2013. “It shouldn’t be regarded as though this is the last word. It’s just a very early snapshot.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Education Benefits Back on the Table

Employer tuition-reimbursement programs, a casualty of the Great Recession of 2008, are making a comeback. Companies are rediscovering that education incentives help keep workers on the job and make finding new employees easier.

“Companies really did slash and burn their professional development budgets,” Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits of the Society of Human Resource Management, said in an article for The Hechinger Report. “Now we’re starting to see things come back, but we’re seeing them come back in completely different ways.”

For instance, many new tuition-reimbursement programs limit workers to courses from specific for-profit providers that are, in turn, providing employers deep discounts for access to those employees. Some companies also require employees to apply for federal financial aid before its education benefit is applied.

“It’s not just a charitable thing,” said Jaime Fall, director of the UpSkill America initiative. “Companies that hire frontline workers know that if they don’t offer benefits that are competitive, they’re going to lose out on workers who want to go to college.”

Another reason for companies to offer education benefits is dissatisfaction with the work skills of recent college graduates. Just 11% of business leaders told a Gallup survey they strongly agreed that graduates were ready for work, even though 96% of higher-ed officials believe their institutions are very to somewhat effective in preparing students for jobs.

“This is a way for the for-profits to maintain relevance,” said Howard Lurie, analyst for the education consulting firm Eduventures. “They’re under the gun. It’s an enrollment-management solution for them.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

U.K. App Pilot to Monitor Students' Work

Fifty colleges and universities in the U.K. will be piloting a new app intended to track students’ study habits and allow their instructors to intervene if students appear to be falling behind or struggling with material. The pilot starts in September.

The app—created by Jisc, an academic technology firm—automatically keeps tabs on each student’s interaction with their school’s digital systems.

“In the way a Fitbit device tracks personal training metrics, Jisc’s app will record students’ learning activity,” said a report in U.K.’s The Independent. “Each time a student logs onto their virtual learning environment to access course materials, clocks into the library, or submits a piece of work online, the app will create a ‘digital footprint’ of their performance.”

In particular, the app’s developer is hoping to stem the tide of university dropouts. The Independent noted a recent U.K. study found that 27% of first-year students either dropped out in their second term or planned to do so as soon as the term ended.

The app will also allow students to track their own progress through each course and determine whether they are meeting requirements. They can also opt to share certain information with classmates in order to benchmark their efforts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Generation Same as the Old, But Not

Generation Z, the latest age group to enter adulthood and college, is fundamentally not all that different from previous generations at the same point in life, though there are a few distinctions.

McCann Truth Central interviewed 33,000 people around the world to find out what sets each generation apart. The study discovered young adults in every generation “are focused on finding themselves, finding their people, and finding their place in the world,” said a report in Ad Age.

Gen Z, however, does exhibit a few characteristics of its own. Like previous generations, this age cohort regards their friends as their real family, but the new twist is that this group is able to literally stay in constant touch with friends through cellphones and social media.

“Teens today are also used to connecting with friends all the time with raw, in-the-moment content using platforms like Snapchat, Twitch, and Periscope, which means brands have to start understanding Gen Z’s hunger for on-the-ground immersive perspectives,” said Laura Simpson, executive vice president and global director of McCann Truth Central.

When it comes to issues, this age group is highly supportive of social equality—such as racial equality, women’s issues, and LGBT rights—whereas adults over 50 voice more concern for individual freedoms (such as political freedom) and curing diseases. The Z’ers feel major companies and brands should use their power to effect change.

“The study also showed that the word ‘adult’ used to be a noun, but is now used as a verb by Gen Z and young Millennials, such as ‘adulting,’ which is about ‘putting your life into little moments or little snaps,’” according to Ad Age.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Metrics to Help Students Succeed

A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) proposed a new metrics framework to help institutions measure student performance. The report lists performance, efficiency, and equity as the measures by which colleges and universities can better serve students of all backgrounds.

The metrics are designed to assess students’ access, progress, completion, cost, and postcollege outcomes. They also look at college affordability, how resources impact completion, and the experience of all students.

“This report draws on the knowledge and experience of higher-education leaders and experts to lay out in detail the metrics we should be collecting—and explains why those data will make a difference for all students, but particularly for those who traditionally have been underserved by higher education,” said IHEP President Michelle Cooper in a report for eCampus News. “Until now, only some institutions have been willingly and voluntarily collecting data to answer critical questions about who attends college, who succeeds in and after college, and how college is financed. But, the field needs a core set of comprehensive and comparable higher ed metrics and should incorporate those metrics into federal and state data systems. Doing so will make the data available for all students in all institutions, not only those who voluntarily collect and report it.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

Keep an Eye on VR Products

Developers of virtual-reality products are currently focused on the gaming industry, but that could change rapidly. Companies are already beginning work on applications of VR technology in the medical field, with retail and education not far behind.

“What we learn from textbooks or labs can be really dull, but VR and AR [augmented reality] will greatly enhance learning abilities,” Chinese investor Zhu Bo said in a report for phys.org. “It can also be used in e-commerce. In the future, you will step into a real scene; you can see the products on the shelves, touch and feel them. So our shopping experience will totally change.”

International Data Corp. predicted shipments of VR devices will increase by more than 2,400% this year, but the market still needs development before retailers jump on the bandwagon. Current VR products only allow individual users to play a game or watch a movie, but companies are expected to continue creating more VR-related hardware and software.

“To experience VR, you need a powerful engine,” said L.Z. Wang, managing director of chipmaker AMD. “Without content, you can’t experience anything.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Students Don't Feel Prepared for Careers

A new report found that just 40% of all college students feel they are “very prepared” to enter the workforce. At the same time, the survey, conducted in March and April by McGraw-Hill Education, added that overall satisfaction with the college experience rose from 65% in 2014 to 79% in 2016.

However, more students would like to see their schools provide: 
  • More internships and professional experiences (67% in 2016, up from 59% in 2014).
  • More time to focus on career preparation (59% in 2016, up from 47% in 2014).
  • Better access to career-preparation tools (47% in 2016, up from 38% in 2014)
  • More alumni networking opportunities (34% in 2016, up from 22% in 2014).

More than 70% of the students reported that planning for a rewarding career while in college was “extremely important,” while nearly 80% cited interpersonal skills as the most important attribute in landing a job. Students also value technology, with 85% saying that using tools in classes made them better job candidates.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Slow K-12 Tech Taking Pressure Off Hi-Ed?

Many assume that students enrolling in college a decade or so from now will have high expectations for classroom technology based on their hands-on experiences in elementary and secondary schools.

However, a new annual survey of teachers and instructional specialists conducted by Education Week indicates K-12 academic technology may not be ramping up all that quickly at this time. The survey report, Technology Counts 2016: Transforming the Classroom, found that close to three-quarters of the respondents enjoyed working with new educational technology, yet for the most part their classes were using tech solutions for only mundane activities such as practice drills and reviewing lesson content.

“These findings echo previous research showing that, despite an influx of technology in schools, many teachers still mainly rely on digital programs to supplement traditional instructional strategies rather than to support more creative, inquiry-based learning,” the report stated. “But the results also suggest that digital learning in some form is ingrained in many classrooms, and that there is momentum toward new practices.”

For the first time, the 2016 survey included a Tech Confidence Index to determine teachers’ levels of confidence in performance, funding, policymaking, and public support for K-12 educational technology. On a scale of zero (most negative) to 100 (most positive), the respondents scored an average of 43 for the present—a relatively lukewarm level of confidence—but the average score rose to 55 when respondents were asked about the near future.

Why has K-12 technology adoption been so slow?

“The teacher respondents indicated that having too few digital-learning devices in their schools and a lack of tech-oriented professional development remain barriers to more regular use of classroom technology,” said the report. “In addition, wireless-connectivity problems and computer breakdowns are still far from infrequent, according to the responses.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reviving the Original Intent of MOOCs

Almost overnight, massive open online courses (MOOCs) went from idea stage to being the next big thing in higher education. While Sebastian Thrun’s first MOOC attracted an impressive 160,000 students in 2011, interest grew to 35 million individuals who signed up for at least one of the free online courses in 2015.

The blemish on the success story has always been completion rates, but MOOC providers also have had to show they are worth the investment. That pressure has led MOOC platforms to shift emphasis to job training and charging students for credentials.

That’s troubling to author Jonathon Keats, who suggested in a column for Wired that the real goal of MOOCs should be to interest people in everything.

“The technology underlying MOOCs—as well as their reach—provides a solid platform for broadening people’s interests,” Keats wrote. “MOOCs need to be linked across disciplines, with recommendation engines like those employed by Netflix and YouTube to entice students to compulsively take up new interests. Completion rates need to be de-emphasized in favor of curiosity quotients.

“Vocation training is just one thin layer of education,” he added. “For edutech to be worthy of its name—and for everything to truly change—MOOC platforms need to make every mind as expansive as the World Wide Web.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

School Laptop Programs Are Working

A Michigan State University study has shown that students who receive laptops from their schools do better in class. Researchers saw higher test scores in English, math, science, and writing when students were given laptops, but the programs need to include one-to-one program support for both students and teachers.

“In the past couple of decades, one-to-one laptop programs have spread widely, but so has debate about whether they are cost-effective and beneficial to educational outcomes,” Binbin Zheng, assistant professor of educational technology at MSU and lead author of the paper, said in an article for eSchool News. “I believe this technology, if implemented correctly, is worth the cost and effort because it lifts student achievement, enhances engagement and enthusiasm among students, improves teacher-student relationships, and promotes 21st-century skills such as technological proficiency and problem-solving.”

The catch is proper implementation, according to Zheng. She found that educational outcomes improve when there is teacher buy-in, enough technical support and professional development for instructors, and suitable curriculum.

“Just putting a laptop before a student doesn’t really help them with anything,” she said. “Technology should not be implemented for technology’s sake.”

Friday, June 10, 2016

Study Identifies Website Flaws

Colleges and universities want their websites to attract prospective students, but too often fail to make a good impression, according to a new report from the higher-education web development firm KDG.

“Our research revealed five mistakes that colleges often make on their website,” Kyle David, CEO of KDG, said in an article for eCampus News. “These mistakes may seem trivial, but they are the primary reasons many students often choose an inferior college that just happens to have a better website.”

The first problem for many college websites is that most incoming freshmen use social media regularly and have become accustomed to reading short chunks of information. Long forms that must be filled out are another issue that prompt prospective students to leave a website.

Institutional sites should guard against cluttered home pages that force students to click several times just to find out about a single aspect of the college. Fake imagery of college life and clich├ęs can also send students looking elsewhere.

“A poorly organized site loses visitors and applicants, and you can ill afford to lose either,” said Rick Martin, a writer for the KDG blog. “Your biology department may be on the verge of curing cancer, but if your website wastes students’ time, you will fail to attract the bright minds that you need to keep your college strong.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

New ESSA Draft Regulations Released

Draft regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) have been released by the U.S. Department of Education. ESSA, signed into law last December to take the place of the No Child Left Behind Act, grants more authority to states and local school districts.

“These regulations give states the opportunity to work with all stakeholders, including parents and educators, to protect all students’ right to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and careers, including the most vulnerable students,” said Secretary of Education John B. King in a report in EdSource. “They also give educators room to reclaim for all of their students the job and promise of a well-rounded educational experience.”

The new law replaces the more narrow definition of school success that was part of No Child Left Behind. However, both civil rights groups and key Republicans on Capitol Hill have been lukewarm to the new regulations.

“I am deeply concerned that the department is trying to take us back to the days when Washington dictated national policy,” said John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. “If this proposal results in a rule that does not reflect the letter and intent of the law, then we will use every available tool to ensure this bipartisan law is implemented as Congress intended.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Boom in Detachable Tablets Is Coming

When the iPad debuted, many people assumed it would become a game-changer in higher education, driving the adoption of digital course materials due to its greater portability and lower cost compared to laptops.

That hasn’t quite happened. However, a new forecast from International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts detachable tablets (also known as hybrids) will become more popular in the next few years, according to a report in eSchool News.

Since most college students need a laptop to efficiently work on papers and homework, they may latch onto detachables as the best of both worlds. They can use the assembled machine for keyboarding activities, and detach the screen for on-the-go reading and study.

The IDC report said tablet shipments will dip this year and in 2017. However, starting in 2018 shipments will start to rise due to greater sales of detachables. At present, according to IDC, detachables make up 16% of tablet sales, but are expected to expand to 31% by 2020.

One of the reasons it will take a few years for sales of detachables to grow is that tablet users don’t see the need to replace the devices all that often, unlike cellphones. On average, users are content with their tablets for about four years before getting a new model.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

UF Researcher Articles Easier to Access

The University of Florida, Gainesville, is working with publisher Elsevier to make it easier to find the research articles it produces every year. The institution recently launched a pilot that links its repository of scholarly works with ScienceDirect, the Elsevier online journal and e-book catalog.

The pilot allows the university to store journal article searches on ScienceDirect and make them available automatically. Users can now search the university repository and find links to more than 31,000 articles that have appeared in Elsevier journals, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

“The nice thing about this pilot is it opens up the repository,” said Alicia Wise, director of access and policy for Elsevier. “Rather than being the end destination, it’s part of the fabric of interconnected platforms.”

The university is pursuing similar partnerships with other publishers and wants to expand the current pilot to increase access for users who aren’t subscribers. It would also like to be able to allow all users to view some text of published articles.

Not everyone is as excited about the pilot. A group of university librarians and press directors said the partnership essentially turns the institutional repository into “discovery layers for commercialized content,” according to another Insider Higher Ed report.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Experiment to Help Low-Income Students

To make it possible for more low-income high school students to get a head start on college, the U.S Department of Education is investing about $20 million in the 2016-17 school year on an experimental dual-enrollment program available through 44 colleges nationwide.

“The hope is that this investment will accelerate students toward completion,” said ED Secretary John B. King Jr. in an article that appeared in eSchool News.

The program will allow participating institutions to begin offering Pell grants to eligible students in July. High school students have to complete the Free Application for Federal Aid form to determine eligibility. Students who qualify can receive grants for up to 12 semesters with a maximum award of $5,815 for the 2016-17 school year.

According to the department, fewer than 10% of children in the bottom fourth of household incomes earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 25.

“The courses students take while in high school and the support they get to succeed in those courses are major factors in not only whether students go to college but also in how well they will do when they get there,” King said in an article for U.S. News & World Report. “The more rigorous and engaging the classes are the better.”

Friday, June 3, 2016

Classroom Design is Being Upended

Games are becoming more integrated into education because students are demanding more engaging experiences. That, in turn, is changing the way classrooms are set up.

Instead of an instructor facing rows of desks, thought leaders in the field now envision classrooms equipped with desks on wheels, movable walls, and screens that allow students to work out gaming solutions in groups.

“It’s a huge deal,” Robert Brodnick, founder of the Brodnick Consulting Group Inc., said in an article for eCampus News. “Classrooms have remained unchanged for decades. We’ve learned this all really matters. If you build and create spaces in a more flexible way, you’re not dictating to students how they’re going to have to learn.”

Gamification is just one part of what is happening to classroom space these days, according to Brodnick. The space need to be flexible enough to accommodate multiple learning formats, such as makerspaces that encourages students to invent and learn. There should be room for immersive visual learning and enough space to promote personalized, project-based learning.

“What we’re starting to realize is that learning is happening out of the classroom more and more, as students are increasingly connected to each other and to information through their phones,” he said. “Learning by doing is much more powerful than acquiring content and apply it five years later on the job. As you move around throughout the day, you have learning experiences, and it’s having a significant impact on how campuses are designed. You might not need as many classrooms or as many bookshelves in libraries.”

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Georgia School Taking Classes to Students

In 2013, Central Georgia Technical College, Warner Robbins, received a grant to test blended-learning methods in its health-care program over an 11-county area of rural Georgia. That led to BlendFlex, an initiative that provides students the option to switch instructional delivery formats.

“In the past, students had to sign up for face-to-face, hybrid, or online courses—they had to make a choice,” Carol Lee, educational technology director at CGTC, said in an article in eCampus News. “We have a lot of students who would sign up for a face-to-face class, but then lifestyle changes, sickness, or family issues would force them to drop out and we would lose those students.”

Even though CGTC has satellite campuses for rural students, before BlendFlex the only choice for many was to drive to one of the institution’s central campuses or take the course online. Once the telepresence option was added, faculty could teach in their classroom as well as to students who joined from the rural centers via the videoconferencing that is part of the program.

CGTC reports that BlendFlex classes have only a 12% dropout rate, compared to a 21% rate among other classes the institution offers. In addition, evaluations indicated that 99% of students said they liked the ability to switch delivery methods, 93% would recommend a BlendFlex class to other students, and 91% would definitely take another BlendFlex course.

“The biggest challenge is getting teachers to [rethink their role] in the classrooms that are now student-centered,” Lee said. “But that’s what it’s going to take to be a successful college these days.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Auxiliary Heads: Store Service Outweighs Profit

When it comes to the campus store at colleges and universities, serving the needs of students and faculty is more important than generating revenue in the eyes of auxiliary directors.

In a recent survey, 85% of auxiliary professionals with oversight of the campus store said the store’s main purpose was as a service provider for students and faculty. While making money from the store was still a high priority for 68% of respondents, service was far and away a more critical function.

The survey, conducted by OnCampus Research, part of the indiCo services at NACS, also showed that 88% of auxiliary administrators thought the campus store should ensure students have access to all the course materials they need right on the first day of class. Some 72% also gave a high priority to low prices on course materials.

Auxiliary directors don’t view sales of course materials as a source of revenue. According to the survey summary, “most administrators do not expect to generate revenues through course materials sales, with just about half of respondents indicating revenue as a priority, and the majority of those respondents ranking it only as moderately important.”

Being able to ensure a high level of service to the school community was the main reason 55% of auxiliary directors said they chose to continue institutional operation of their campus store.