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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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

VR 'Class' Tests New Teachers' Skills

Theory is fine, but practice makes perfect. With that in mind, education students at Stonehill College in Massachusetts are gaining hands-on experience in lesson presentation and classroom management, but without inflicting their still-wobbly skills on youngsters.

The Stonehill students are using a new immersive-training platform to practice their teaching in a virtual-reality simulation classroom. A grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education and the platform developer, Mursion, are paying for the technology.

The students deliver a sample lesson, as they would in a physical classroom, except that their simulated “pupils” appear on a video screen, similar to characters in a video game or animated movie. The pupils are programmed to react in real time to the student-teachers’ directions, and just like their counterparts in an actual class, they don’t always do exactly what they’re told.

“Students say it is stressful, but also beneficial to them,” said Kathy McNamara, education department chair, in a Stonehill release about the program. “They get feedback before they actually have to go into the classroom. It is insightful for them to see classroom life unfold. When they react to students, they see how and why it resulted in a particular outcome. They usually do about six or seven minutes and they’ll tell you it feels like an eternity.”

Other students can also watch and discuss how the simulation went. Mursion has also created simulations for team teaching and parent-teacher conferences.

Stonehill is among a number of teacher-training programs testing the Mursion system.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Video Playing Bigger Role in Higher Ed

A new study found that the use of video may have reached a tipping point in higher education. The third annual State of Video in Education report noted that 75% of all students now use video in their assignments and the share of institutions using flipped classrooms has increased to 58%.

More than half of administrators, instructors, and students reported that their institution now uses a video solution integrated into its learning management system (LMS). In addition, video feedback on assignments has grown from 26% in the 2015 survey to 32% this year.

The survey also found that 93% of the respondents said they believe video has a positive impact on student satisfaction and 85% said having video as part of their resource toolkit increases teacher satisfaction. Nearly 90% agreed that it boosts student achievement levels, while 76% said they believe it increases student retention rates.

“For the first time, over 50% of higher-education respondents report that their institution has now integrated a video solution into the LMS,” said Ron Yekutiel, chairman and CEO of Kaltura, the video technology provider that conducted the survey. “If proof were needed that video is now mainstream in education, then this is it. Those institutions that do not yet have a comprehensive video strategy in place for the new academic year risk being left behind.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

CRAFT Experiment Shows Potential

Faculty members of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, are experimenting with a flipped-classroom model that is showing some promise. CRAFT—for Create and curate content, Replace lectures with Active, and Flipped, Team-based learning—targets classes with high rates of dropouts or students getting poor grades.

In the first two years of the program, students in most of CRAFT courses received higher grades than their peers taking the lecture version. In addition, the university has been able to enroll more students in the classes. Instructors also report that their workload remains about the same, according to a report for Inside Higher Education.

A philosophy course that went through the CRAFT redesign typically had 40 students who met three times a week for 50 minutes per class, with lectures making up two of the three sessions. As a flipped class, enrollment increased to 90 students divided into three groups that meet once a week for group quizzes and other forms of active learning. Students watch video and do homework exercises on their own to complete the weekly coursework.

“I’m effectively teaching more students than I was before, but it’s taking less of their time … and the workflow is neutral for me because I’m spending the same amount of time in the classroom,” said Wade Maki, who teaches the redesigned course. “You can move the needle on access and affordability with this. And we need to do that.”

The workload for instructors only becomes neutral after the redesign stage is completed and student savings come in the form of less money spent on course materials that are replaced with online lecture videos. However, student grades did go up, with the share of students earning an A or B increasing from 40% to 56% in one course alone.

“We have shown the model didn’t fail, which we expected it might,” Maki said. “Now, we have to get others on board.”

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Preferences of Online Students

Students who previously wouldn’t have enrolled into college are now doing so because of online education, according to a new report. Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences counters some common misconceptions about online students and their preferences.

“This research demonstrates the important access that online education provides to students, while also highlighting the competitive and rapidly growing nature of the industry,” David Clinefelter, chief academic officer of Learning House and an author of the report, said in an article for eCampus News. “Current estimates place the number of students working towards their degrees online at 3.5 million; we expect that number to grow to five million by 2020. Institutions of higher learning cannot afford to ignore this population, nor can they resist catering to their needs and inclinations when it comes to choosing the program that is right for them.”

The research found that cost is the main factor for students in picking an online institution to attend, but even a small incentive can help. Students apply to online programs offered by colleges that are close to home, with 75% visiting the main campus at least once during the year.

About two-thirds of the responding students weren’t familiar with alternative learning pathways such as massive open online courses and micro degrees, and 55% who did know about alternative credentials never considered them while searching for an online program. The report advised colleges and universities looking into these programs to do a better job of communicating the value offered to students.

Online students choose and apply for programs in which they’re interested much quicker than was commonly thought. The research also found that while business remains the top online program for graduate students, computer and IT courses have surpassed education in popularity.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Penn State Prof Develops VR Classroom

Colleges and universities are looking at how virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used in the classroom. A professor at Pennsylvania State University, State College, is working on ways to use both as the classroom.

Ann Clements, associate professor and graduate program chair for music education at Penn State, has developed an AI virtual classroom that lets teachers practice student-engagement techniques before they begin their student-teaching requirements. The classroom prototype, known as First Class, allows pre-service teachers to use a motion-sensing device employed in video-game consoles to experience what can happen in a classroom setting.

Modules in the AI program allows the teachers to call on individual students by their first name after they raise their hands, while attention meters measure if the class is paying attention. The teacher also receives evaluations based on answers the virtual students give on a basic yes-and-no test.

“Teaching is a complex craft because it involves human engagement,” Clements said in an article for eCampus News. “So we can talk to someone about how to teach and best practices and provide them with curricular content, but they need to engage with students in some way to have the skills to become solid teachers.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Counseling Pilot Aims to Trim Student Debt

In hopes of ensuring that college students don’t assume too much debt in pursuing a degree, the U.S. Department of Education is launching a trial program to provide loan counseling to students while they’re still in school.

Students already receive some level of counseling when they first take out a loan and again when they leave or finish school and must start repayment. The federal program would see that students also get counseling in between, according to a report on TheStreet.com.

The goal of this new layer of face-to-face counseling would be, in part, to make sure each student is not taking on more loans than they could reasonably pay back, given their anticipated first job. A general rule of thumb is that loans should not total more than the average annual starting salary in the student’s field of study.

Colleges and universities that sign up for the trial program will randomly place students into two groups for comparison: those who get the extra loan counseling and those who receive the usual entrance and exit counseling.

“We’re keen to understand not only whether required loan counseling works, but what kind of loan counseling is most effective,” said Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell at the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators conference in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bill Could Expand Prep Enrollment to College

A bill before the U.S. Senate would provide high school students with more opportunities to take career and technical education college courses. The Workforce Advance Act would expand enrollment as part of Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs.

The bill lets states open up access to CTE courses that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. It also makes it possible for schools to use part of the funding received through the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act for tuition and fees for the CTE courses, according to a report in eCampus News.

In addition, school districts could use funding to help teachers pursue credentials needed to teach CTE courses in their high schools. It authorizes the Department of Education to identify successful methods and best practices for providing the courses.

"At a time when higher education is more important for success in the 21st-century economy than ever before, we need to help create opportunities for students in high school to prepare for college and their future careers,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Tens of thousands of kids in Colorado are already taking advantage of dual- and concurrent-enrollment opportunities, which has helped more of them enroll and do well in college. This bill will help improve career and technical education programs by expanding these opportunities across the country to allow even more students to benefit.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Duo Developing App to Create Open E-Books

A small startup based in Ann Arbor, MI, is trying to raise money to develop an open-source application called PageKicker that would find open content online and repackage it into an e-book almost immediately.

“The problem we are solving is one that most people take for granted: Writing and publishing a book takes months of effort and costs tens of thousands of dollars in fully loaded labor costs,” says the PageKicker website. “We are changing that, and the world of writing and publishing will never be the same.”

The app would use an algorithm to search for relevant topical content, analyze the material, convert everything into an e-readable format, assemble the finished product, and deliver it within a few minutes. “Push a button, build a book,” PageKicker promises.

Founders Fred Zimmerman and Ken Leith claim to have a prototype ready, but are looking for investors to help complete development of a 1.0 version for Android and iOS.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Students Have Limited Grasp of Financial Info

Some college students are unfamiliar with basic financial concepts, which could pose a problem for those expecting to borrow substantial loans to pay for their education.

In a survey with 18,795 student respondents at 51 public and private universities and colleges, the Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness asked five questions about interest calculations, inflation, college loan repayment, take-home pay, and credit score components to determine what students knew about consumer finance.

Only 11% were able to answer all five correctly. About 29% got four questions right and another 29% got three, but 7% couldn’t provide a single accurate answer. Some questions apparently stumped students more than others, according to a report in The Conversation. Almost 21% picked the wrong answer on the interest question, but 41% didn’t get the one on inflation.

“Students who answered the interest rate question incorrectly don’t understand that interest is earned not only on money deposited in a savings account, but also on previously earned interest—a feature known as compounding—while students who answered the inflation question incorrectly don’t understand that rising inflation reduces the buying power of money,” wrote researchers Catherine Montalto and Anne McDaniel.

Not surprisingly, older students and students who had taken some type of financial coursework performed better on the five questions. Students attending four-year private schools fared worse on the quiz than those at two-year or four-year public institutions.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Students Wait to Get Books, or Don't at All

Most college students aren’t fully prepared to dig into their coursework on the first day of class. In a new survey of 500 students, 72% said they held off on acquiring some course materials until after the course was underway and 27% never bothered to get materials at all for at least one course.

The majority of students indicated cost was the reason for not obtaining their course materials before classes started. The survey was conducted in May by Wakefield Research for VitalSource Technologies, a provider of digital textbooks.

NACS’ latest Student Watch survey, conducted in spring 2016, found very similar results in a study of almost 17,000 college students. In both surveys, students said they resorted to a variety of strategies in order to afford their materials, including sharing them with others taking the same class, which can create complications for effective studying and doing assignments.

In the Wakefield study, respondents also liked the idea of folding the cost of course materials into tuition, with 77% overall showing support for the concept.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Technology Is No Substitute for a Teacher

A quality education is more about the relationship between an instructor and motivated students than the technology used in the classroom. That, according to a post from Insider Higher Ed tech blogger Joshua Kim, is why technology will never really lower the costs of education.

Technology can complement the relationship-based method of learning by providing tools the instructor can use to help students achieve their goals. What technology can’t do is become a substitute for the teacher.

“The idea that technology can lower the cost of education while improving quality—or improve quality while keeping costs steady, or lower costs while keeping quality steady—is anchored in a basic misconception about how technology behaves,” Kim wrote. “This misconception is that new technologies substitute for existing actions or for existing technologies. The reality is that new technologies most often end up complementing existing practices and technologies. New and old technologies exist side by side.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tennessee Promise Improves for Year Two

The first year of the Tennessee Promise was a success, but not without challenges. State officials are addressing those issues as the program offering free community college education begins its second year.

More than 16,000 students were enrolled in the program last fall and 80% stayed with the program through the spring semester. The number of students who applied for Tennessee Promise scholarships for the 2016-17 school year increased to nearly 60,000, according to a report in The Tennessean.

The most significant change will deal with how federal aid is distributed to students. Filing rules for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have been relaxed by the corporation responsible for overseeing the financial parts of the Tennessee Promise. In addition, new federal guidelines allowing students to use more accessible tax data to complete the form go into effect in the fall.

“This is going to change things dramatically for this program, in a good way,” said Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise. “FAFSA and the FAFSA verification process represent a hurdle for students, particularly low-income students.”

Communications are being ramped up to provide more information and support for students in the program. Officials also plan to introduce the Tennessee Promise to eighth-graders across the state. In addition, colleges are hiring more support staff for students in the program and some professors are using a more team-project-style approach to their classes to encourage greater participation from the Tennessee Promise students.

Monday, August 15, 2016

MOOCs as an Affordability Solution

There will always be students who want and need a traditional college education, but there also have to be less costly methods of earning a degree, according to Richard DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

Colleges must find new ways to deliver education to remain sustainable and DeMillo says massive open online courses (MOOCs) can play a role. Georgia Tech began offering MOOCs in 2011 and saw a 40% increase in applicants in the first year of the program.

The university expanded the program to include a master’s degree in computer science that costs thousands less than what students working on the same degree on campus are paying. The program will have 4,000 students this fall and all were required to meet the same criteria for acceptance, just like any other Georgia Tech students.

“You don’t change the existing order by fighting it,” DeMillo said in an article for Campus Technology. “You find new ways of doing things that make the old ways obsolete.”

Friday, August 12, 2016

What's Better than Apps? Chatbots

College students value their smartphones and the apps that allow them to play games and make purchases. Chatbots could replace apps as the interface, allowing users to find the things they want and need from the same messaging applications they already use to talk to friends.

“Chatbots are the singularity that smart devices have been waiting for, the streamlined experience that will finally unshackle us from the burden that our apps put on our devices,” Craig Elimeliah, director of creative technology for the digital marketing agency VML, wrote in a column for VentureBeat. “Apps slow us down. For most of what we do on our mobile devices, the chatbot and chat interface are ideal.”

Elimeliah said chatbots will be a better way for businesses to engage customers with their brands because they can be used in so many places and with so many different platforms. They can also be voice- and text-enabled.

“The ability that chatbots have to parse language for meaning and context means we can now create much more meaningful and precise 1:1 experiences that can scale way beyond the finite interfaces of an app,” he concluded. “In the end, chatbots are going to make apps look like clunky experiences that don’t really take into account that today’s mobile users need the most lightweight and easily accessible features and functions to blaze through their day.”

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Study Finds Security Risks in 3-D Printers

International Data Corp. (IDC) recently reported that the $2.5-billion 3-D printing market grew by 20% in 2015. IDC also predicted that education spending on 3-D printing hardware and materials will increase to more than $500 million by 2019.

That kind of spending could be very attractive to hackers. New research on 3-D printing security found printing orientation and insertion of fine defects are areas of concern because of the potential harm to users caused by deliberately weakened products.

“These are possible foci for attacks that could have devastating impact on users of the end products, and economic impact in the form of recalls and lawsuits,” said Nikhil Gupta, an associate professor of engineer at New Your University and a member of the team that did the research.

Since computer-assisted design files used in the printing process don’t include printer-head orientation, hackers could change the process without detection, according to the research. Hacking the orientation could make as much as a 25% difference in the strength of a product.

Hackers could also attack printers connected to the Internet, adding internal defects into products as they are being printed. The researchers were able to introduce submillimeter defects, which could weaken the product, that couldn’t be detected using normal monitoring methods.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

More Schools Supplement Degrees with Badges

More colleges and universities are turning to digital badges as a means to help students—including returning graduates—demonstrate their mastery of specific skills to potential employers, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Badges are intended to enhance degrees, not replace them. In the Illinois State University honors program, students can earn digital badges for both coursework and for related hands-on experiences. “That could include academic achievements, like seminar course or biology lab work, or noncollege skills learned through internships or volunteer work,” wrote Paul Fain in the article.

The honors program determines the criteria for each badge and may require faculty and/or students to provide documentation or work samples. Students can decide which badges are viewable, so they can tailor their profile for the type of jobs they’re seeking.

Some badges provide official verification that a student did indeed serve in a certain capacity, such as being a campus peer mentor, or participated in a project or activity.

Other institutions are using badges to designate specific technical skills attained by students, such as information technology or advanced manufacturing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Faculty Need Larger Role in Student Success

A new paper from the Education Advisory Board (EAB) reported that instructors aren’t being asked to help students succeed often enough, according to an article for Inside Higher Education.

The Evolving Role of Faculty in Student Success, with a corresponding infographic, found that while plenty of pedagogical innovations are available to instructors, training and support may still be lacking. For example, 75% of responding schools purchased or developed early-warning systems to identify at-risk students, yet not all were being used.

The report advised that faculty should be able to customize early-warning systems to make sure they’re being used. It also suggested that provosts and academic deans need to make sure faculty are aware that mentoring should reach all students, not just the most and least at-risk students.

“Critical reforms that pertain to curricular requirements, academic policies, advising practices, and transfer articulation all rely on the willingness of faculty to redesign the institutional approach and carry out a new set of procedures, but many academic administrators have neglected to involve faculty from the outset,” wrote the authors of the report.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Online Students Really Don't Want to Cheat

A new study shows that most students don’t want to cheat. Research by the University of California, Riverside, found that the majority of college students will make a legitimate attempt to answer online homework questions, even when shortcuts are available.

Students in the study were asked to complete short-answer homework questions using digital textbooks that provided both “Check” and “Show Answer” buttons. The “Show Answer” button disclosed the correct answer without a grade penalty, but 84% of the students still used the “Check” button first. Just 1% of the students “blatantly cheated the system.”

“We created the material under the assumption that, fundamentally, students want to learn,” Frank Vahid, UC Riverside professor, said in an article for eCampus News. “We believed they would challenge themselves to answer questions if those questions really help them learn. We were delighted that the study confirmed our assumption. Such data not only guides us in creating and improving learning material, but can really change how teachers view and interact with students.”

Friday, August 5, 2016

AP Courses Don't Predict College Success

Advanced placement (AP) courses can help high school students save money on higher education by allowing them to skip some early degree requirements. However, new research has found the courses don’t really predict college success.

The study, published by the Brookings Institute, showed that students who took AP courses in high school only scored marginally better in their college classes.

“For example, for students of similar race, socioeconomic status, and high school standardized test scores, those who took a year of high school economics earn a final grade in their college economics class 0.03 points higher than students who have never encountered that subject before,” authors of the report wrote. “What’s more, these trivially small differences hold even for students who took exactly the same college course.”

The study reported that while 82% of all high school students earn a diploma, college completion rates remain stagnate because students often arrive on campus “ill-prepared for advanced courses.” The researchers recommended schools use AP courses that require critical-thinking skills because many universities make students take those type of courses once they are on campus, even if they already have AP courses to their credit.

“National assessments need to follow students through college graduation to understand what works and what does not over the long term,” the authors concluded. “To date, many standardized tests (including international assessments) simply assume that performance in high school necessarily predicts later success, without revealing how students use such knowledge and skills in college classes or to finish their degree.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tool Makes Flipped-Classroom Model Better

The flipped-classroom model, which has students do their classwork at home, works best when students come prepared. Eric Mazur, a Harvard university physics professor, has created a social tool to help that happen.

Perusall is a social learning platform that allows students to interact with others working on an assignment, pose questions, and receive email notifications when their question is answered so they can come to class ready to talk about the subject.

The platform also includes an assessment tool for instructors based on the quality of the responses posted, how often students comment, and whether those comments are posted before the next class. To keep extra work for teachers to a minimum, the app uses an automated assessment engine to analyze the postings.

In classroom tests of Perusall, Mazur found that 70% of his students read every assignment during the semester and 95% missed no more than a chapter or two. He is also working with publishers to make textbooks available through the platform, which can be integrated with most learning management systems.

“Education is not just about transferring information,” Mazur said in an article for eSchool News. “It’s not about getting students to learn what we know. I want my students to stand on my shoulders to solve the problems I cannot solve. To do that, active participation and social interaction are a must.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Faculty Awareness of OER Continues to Lag

The use of open educational resources (OER) is becoming more popular each year, but faculty still trail behind in awareness. Babson Survey Research Group reported in a new study that 25% of faculty are either aware or very aware of OER, up from 20% a year ago, but 58% remained unaware or didn’t know much about open content.

Another 17% of faculty said they were aware of OER but weren’t sure how to use them. More than 3,000 teaching faculty responded to the survey for the report Opening the Textbook: Education Resources in U.S. HigherEducation 2015-16.

The study found that instructors of large-enrollment, introductory-level classes adopted OER at twice the rate (10%) of other faculty members. Nearly 50% of the respondents said they felt there weren’t enough OER resources for the subject they taught and 45% cited the absence of comprehensive catalogs of the resources, but 30% said they would consider using OER in the future.

“There is potential for growth for OER, as many faculty report that they are willing to try these resources,” said Jeff Seaman, co-author of the report. “However, while faculty cite cost to the students more than any other factor in selecting educational materials, concerns about the time and effort it takes to find and evaluate these materials remain a significant barrier to wider adoption.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Higher Ed Keeping an Eye on VR

The release of two consumer virtual-reality headsets has more people thinking about buying the product, particularly those in the world of immersive games and interactive videos. That has caught the attention of higher education, according to Carl Straumsheim in a column for Inside Higher Education.

“The technology still has a way to go, but early adopters of virtual reality imagine a future in which students go on field trips around the world from the comfort of the VR lab, joined by tour guides who connect to the class remotely,” Straumsheim wrote. “Students in online programs, instead of only interacting with their classmates through discussion forums, meet in virtual classrooms, where they can lean over and talk to their neighbors or work together on a problem on a blackboard.”

Despite the excitement over VR, there are still some concerns that must be addressed, starting with cost. The two commercial headsets released earlier this year cost at least $600 each, and that doesn’t include the gaming computers needed to use them.

Headsets are clunky and wireless technology remains years away. In addition, some users have experienced eyestrain and a type of motion sickness caused by the difference between what the eye sees and the ear senses.

“Costs will come down, the software might be easier to develop, and the technology will continue to advance,” Nitocris Perez, an emerging-technology specialist at Indiana University, Bloomington, told Straumsheim. “I don’t think it’s going to be tomorrow, but three years from now things will be radically different.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

ED Announces New Rules for Online Schools

New rules for institutions providing distance education have been proposed by the Department of Education, that would require those schools to get authorization in each state in which they wanted to market their online programs to students.

Institutions already have to have state authorization in the states where they are located, but there are no federal requirements when instruction is being offered to students outside of that state.

“These proposed regulations achieve an important balance between accountability and flexibility, and, in so doing, create better protections for students and taxpayers,” U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a press release. “Additionally, these regulations promote and clarify state authorization procedures, further strengthening the integrity of federal financial aid programs.”

The proposed rules don’t require schools to acquire program accreditation in all states where they want to do business and the disclosure form could be buried in the enrollment contract, according to a report in eCampus News. The student’s home state was also not given authority to resolve consumer complaints, prompting a call to make that state power clear from the Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

“Some for-profit career colleges have a history of enrolling students in online courses that mire them in debt without providing the education they need to get a license in the state where they live,” said Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union. “The Department of Education should strengthen its proposal by requiring accreditation for all specific programs offered to ensure students aren’t pushed into signing up for programs that won’t meet their needs.”