This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Apple Teaching Coding with an App

Teaching students how to write computer code is almost as common at the three R’s. Coding camps have become big business and the Florida Senate approved a bill that would declare computer coding a requirement for graduation.

Now, Apple has is making a splash with its Everyone Can Code curriculum, a free coding app it introduced during the launch of the iPhone 7 in early September. The program, aimed at middle-school students, uses Swift Playgrounds software that allows students to write code to guide characters through a graphical world, solve puzzles, and master challenges using the Swift programming language.

“When you learn to code with Swift Playgrounds, you are learning the same language used by professional developers,” Brian Croll, Apple vice president of product marketing, said in an article for The New York Times. “It’s easy to take the next step and learn to write a real app.”

The Apple coding app requires an iPad tablet to operate but is free to download. The app is so simple anyone could use it to teach themselves to code at home, according to Croll.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Students Disillusioned with Classroom Tech

College students are used to having the latest technology at their fingertips, but aren’t getting that when they enter the classroom. New research reports that the number of students who expressed dissatisfaction with classroom technology more than doubled since 2015.

A survey of 500 students conducted by VitalSource showed that 19% were unhappy with the technology available to them in class, compared to just 8% who held that opinion one year before. Students who said they were completely satisfied with available technology fell from 35% in 2015 to 22% in 2016.

“The survey results show us the technology used in college classes just isn’t meeting the expectations of today’s students, even as other parts of their lives are relying on tech,” said Pep Carerra, chief operating officer of VitalSource. “The challenge is to keep pace with the ever-evolving landscape while keeping the aspects we know boost student success.”

Those findings are at odds with a Campus Technology survey that found 81% of faculty said technology had an “extremely positive” or “mostly positive” impact on education. The Teaching with Tech study also reported more than three-quarters of responding faculty said technology made their jobs easier and 88% said it had a positive impact on their teaching.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Little by Little, Faculty Moving to Digital

College and university faculty are slowly warming up to digital course materials, even though the vast majority (93%) primarily used print textbooks in the last academic year, according to the first Faculty Watch survey conducted by NACS OnCampus Research.

Despite the high use of print last year, fewer profs are sticking with print this fall. Just 81% are planning to require paper course materials for their classes this year. In lieu of some or all of their print materials, 63% of instructors are asking students to log into digital materials through the institution’s learning management system, 36% are adopting digital textbooks, and 28% are requiring access codes for publisher-produced content online.

All in all, most faculty have reached a fairly high level of ease with digital technology in the classroom. Only 7% of Faculty Watch respondents said they are not at all comfortable with e-technology, while at the other end of the spectrum 29% feel extremely at home with digital tech. Most are in the middle: 23% are very comfortable, 25% slightly, and 16% moderately.

Still, faculty expressed some concerns about the efficacy of some digital formats. Almost one quarter of them said e-textbooks were not as effective as their print counterparts in aiding students to absorb and comprehend information. However, they hold a higher regard for online content accessed through a code: 49% of instructors felt this type of material actually helps students to learn better.

The difference may lie in the fact that much of the access-code content has been developed specificially for online consumption with extra bells and whistles to assist students and instructors, while some e-books are still little more than PDFs.

More highlights from the Faculty Watch results are available in the key findings report. In addition, the press release includes downloadable infographics.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teachers Want VR in the Classroom

Educators see potential in virtual reality (VR) and would like more access to it in their classrooms. A new survey from the networking software company Extreme Networks found that 23% of responding schools said they had tested VR and more than half said they were looking into using it.

The study reported that 52% of the schools that tried VR technology used it for science classes, while 20% used it in engineering, and 29% in history. Google was the most popular brand in the survey, at 74%, followed by Oculus (17%) and Samsung (14%).

One challenge for responding school administrators was IT infrastructure. The report found that 32% said they could use VR, 31% said they were “somewhat sure” they had the infrastructure, and 30% were sure they couldn’t support the technology.

“The major benefit of virtual reality in the classroom is that it engages students completely in the lesson,” Bob Nilsson, director of vertical solutions marketing for Extreme Networks, wrote in a blog post about the survey. “It sparks creativity and brings difficult concepts to life. The downside is there is not yet enough VR content and it is still perceived as difficult to implement.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Coming to Grips with Higher-Ed Value

Voters often complain that the U.S. Congress needs to change, while continually voting their own representatives back into office. A new survey found something similar in higher education: Academic leaders agree that college and universities are responsible for why institutions are delivering less value than 10 years ago, but that doesn’t include their own school.

In the report, from the research firm Eduventures and set to be published Sept. 29, about half of the administrators said their own institutions provided either more or somewhat higher value than a decade before, while another quarter said the value was roughly the same. When asked to rate the value of higher education as a whole, nearly 75% said it had decreased or remained the same.

“What I’m sensing is a bit of a vacuum,” James Wiley, principal analyst for Eduventures and author of the report, said in an article for Inside Higher Ed. “Leaders are pulled in all directions, and if there’s no real ownership or space to do anything, then what fills that void?”

One conclusion from the report is that colleges and universities may be suffering from “initiative fatigue.”

“Higher education is drowning in initiatives right now,” said Gunnar Counselman, CEO of the ed-tech firm Fedelis. “What’s happened in the last 10-12 years is that higher ed has recognized that what got them here is not going to get them there. They’ve recognized that they’re going to have to change and, as a result of that, they’ve put a dozen initiatives in the water.”

Friday, September 23, 2016

Checking Grades Predicts Student Success

How often students check their grades online is the best way to predict how well they will do in a class, according to a report from Blackboard. The educational technology firm found that students who accessed its gradebook function were the most successful in a class, while those who never accessed their grades were more likely to fail.

“This surprised me, given that other tools (like assessments) directly and tangibly influence a student’s grade,” John Whitmer, director of analytics and research at Blackboard, wrote in a blog post about the study. “This is an independent behavioral measure and yet is a very strong predictor.”

The data came from spring 2016 courses that were filtered by size of class, average course time, and use of the online gradebook. The filtered results provided information on more than 600,000 students.

The research found that students spent most of their time on the learning management system to look at content. Surprisingly, those who spent more than the average amount of time on course content earned lower grades.

“Students who have mastered course materials can quickly answer questions; those who ponder over questions are more likely to be students who are struggling with the material,” Whitmer wrote. “The relationship is stronger in assessment than assignments because assessments measure all time spent in the assessment, whereas assignments don’t measure the offline time spent creating the material. Regardless, this trend of average time spent as the most frequent behavior of successful students is consistent across both tools, and is a markedly different relationship than is found in other tools.”

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fewer Americans Believe College Is Necessary

The number of Americans who think a college education is mandatory is on the decline. According to a survey from the nonpartisan organization Public Agenda, just 42% of respondents said they needed college for workforce success, a 13% drop since 2009.

Conversely, 57% said there were many ways to succeed without college, an increase of 14% over the last seven years. The study also reported that 46% of respondents said college was a questionable investment because of high loans and limited job opportunities.

Around two-thirds said many people are qualified for college but don’t have the opportunity. In addition, 59% said colleges are more concerned with the bottom line and just 34% said they believed schools cared most about education and students.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Digital Teaching Tools Need Support

Digital technologies, when designed and used properly, can help enhance college students’ learning and faculty are often encouraged to adopt such tools for their courses. That flies out the window when the institution doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the digital technologies selected by instructors.

At George Washington University, for instance, there aren’t enough smart rooms—classrooms wired for multimedia—to house all of the foreign-language courses that need them this term, according to The Hatchet campus publication. Most of the language instructors use electronic course materials and teaching aids intended to assist students in practicing speaking and verbal comprehension.

Bumped out of some smart rooms by higher-enrollment courses, smaller language classes ended up in rooms where electronic equipment was missing or malfunctioning. A German instructor said she had to repeatedly cancel classes because her assigned room didn’t have the right technology.

“That is just the way language learning is in the 21st century, and it is really tough when you don’t have those tools,” the instructor said.

Some courses had no assigned classroom at all, forcing the instructor to find an empty room or even an unoccupied lounge space.

The head of the Spanish language program suggested dividing larger lecture halls into smaller rooms that could handle technology needs. “And the lecture mode of teaching is kind of dissipating a little bit, and so as that happens, you need to accommodate the space to the new reality of teaching,” she said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Coursera Gets into Business Development

Coursera will continue to offer massive open online courses from prestigious colleges and universities from around the world. However, the ed-tech platform is also branching out to corporate learning and development.

The company recently launched Coursera for Business in response to large numbers of employees signing up for its classes in professional development. That should be a profitable venture since the 2015 Annual Training report found 70% of responding companies in the United States use learning management systems, virtual classrooms, webcasting, and other e-learning platforms to train their employees.

“We have 21 million registered users and are adding about a half-a-million registered users per month,” said Coursera CEO Rick Levin in an article for TechCrunch. “When we looked at the email addresses of our learners, we would see thousands signing up from one corporate email domain, tens of thousands in one case.”

Classes in the new program focus on tech skills for employees. Companies using Coursera for Business content can track the progress of their employees, who can earn certificates upon successful completion of a course.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Use of OER Could Rise Dramatically

The use of open education resources (OER) could triple over the next five years, according to a new report from Cengage Learning, while use of OER as supplemental learning materials might quadruple over the same period.

Cengage surveyed more the 500 faculty members, industry experts, and OER adopters for the report, Open Educational Resources and the Evolving Higher Education Landscape. Of faculty not already using OER, 77% said they either expect to use it or would consider using it in the next three years.

The main problem for OER adoption continues to be a lack of understanding by educators. The study found the most significant barrier to OER is “faculty perception of the time and effort required to find and evaluate it.” More than half of the respondents said the lack of a comprehensive catalog was an issue, while 42% cited challenges in finding what they needed as the biggest obstacle.

“If OER is to become truly mainstream, it will need to be integrated with personalized and adaptive learning technologies—including assessment and analytics—that help to improve student performance by mapping objectives to outcomes,” wrote the report’s authors. “Quality content can only go so far; it must be ‘wrapped’ in an instructionally designed framework that creates a cohesive and effective learning experience.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Trigger Warnings Back in the News

The University of Chicago got the debate about trigger warnings started again when it told incoming freshmen that the university did not support warning students about potentially difficult material. Not all faculty members agree with that stance.

A survey of more than 800 faculty members conducted last fall by National Public Radio found that about half of them used trigger warnings, and most did it on their own. The study, which NPR admitted was not a scientific sample, noted that 86% of the professors knew of the term “trigger warning,” but fewer than 2% said their institutions had official policies about their use.

The survey also reported that fewer than 4% of students requested a warning. Nearly 65% of the professors who provided one did so because they thought the material required it and none of the respondents said they had students try to get out of an assignment or skip a class because the topic made them uncomfortable.

“I think that trigger warnings can and should be used in a limited number of situations, but overusing them can create a situation in which students opt out of learning experiences simply because they don’t want to confront their own assumptions about the world,” Lauren Griffith, a professor of ethnology at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, told NPR about her use of the warnings.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Readers Still Prefer Printed Books

Digital content continues to lag behind a good, old-fashioned printed book in readers’ preference, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. The study found that 65% of Americans said they read a print book over the last 12 months, while just 28% read an e-book and 14% listened to an audiobook.

More than 70% of Americans reported reading a book in the last year, a number that has remained consistent since 2012. Almost 35% said they read an e-book or listened to an audiobook in the last year, but just 6% said they only read digital content.

E-book readership did increase by 11 percentage points between 2011-2014, but numbers have not changed since. The survey, conducted last March, also found that 19% of Americans under the age of 50 have used a cellphone to read a book and just 8% said they used a dedicated e-reader.

“While print remains at the center of the book-reading landscape as a whole, there has been a distinct shift in the e-book landscape over the last five years,” wrote the authors of the report. “Americans increasingly turn to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet computers—rather than dedicated e-readers—when they engage with e-book content. The share of e-book readers on tablets has more than tripled since 2011 and the number of readers on phones has more than doubled over that time, when the share reading on e-book reading devices has not changed.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Enticement for Graduating on Time

Many colleges and universities are working on ways to encourage students to graduate in four years. Marymount California University, Rancho Palos Verdes, has come up with a pretty unique enticement.

The school partnered with a local car dealership to allow incoming freshmen to purchase new Mini Cooper automobiles at fleet pricing. Students have to make the first four years of payments, but if they graduate on time, the university will make the fifth and final year of payments, up to $5,000.

“Our students will commute to and from our campuses, drive to their internships, and explore the abundance of beauty, culture, and fun that Southern California has to offer,” said Marymount President Lucas Lamadrid. “And our graduates who participate in the My Marymount Mini will have a reliable and ‘cool’ car that’s fully paid for to drive to their first job after college.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

App Keeps Students Organized

An app is now being offered in the United States that provides college students one-stop access to all of their educational content and resources. The digital academic organizer Myday collects information from across a university and makes it available to all student devices.

The app, developed by the U.K.-tech firm Collabco, gathers content from an institution’s learning- and student-management systems and even provides students with information on bus routes, social media updates, and homework assignments. The app uses a single login and can be customized by each student.

In addition, the mobile app can be branded for each university that uses it, has multiple-language support, and can be integrated with other tools such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, and Office 365. Collabco also provides a support team to guide colleges through the setup procedure.

“Colleges and universities are always looking for new ways to attract and retain students in an increasingly digital world,” Collabco CEO Mark Francis said in a report for Campus Technology. “The key to this is to make education a highly personalized, engaging experience for each individual.”

Monday, September 12, 2016

Access Codes Have Students Riled Up

College students have always complained about the cost of course materials. The latest target for concern is access codes for digital content.

Such codes typically range from $80-$150 per course and are often required to access homework assignments and quizzes. Since the fees are time-limited licenses, the codes can’t be shared or sold back to the campus store, and that’s generating criticism.

“When we talk about access codes, we see it as the new face of the textbook monopoly, a new way to lock students around this system,” Ethan Senack, federal higher-education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told BuzzFeed News. “Rather than $250 [for a print textbook], you’re paying $120, but because it’s digital, it eliminates the used-book market and eliminates any sharing, and because homework and tests are through an access codes, it eliminates any ability to opt out.”

Publishers point out the codes are not only less expensive than printed textbooks, they also provide additional features such as personalized knowledge checks and video. McGraw-Hill Education reported a 12% increase in paid activations for its LearnSmart and Connect programs in 2015, while Pearson showed a 3% gain in global digital registrations for its MyLab programs.

“These digital products are not just mechanisms for students to submit homework, they offer all kinds of features,” said David Anderson, executive director of higher education for the Association of American Publishers. “It’s very robust in helping students understand in a way that you can’t do with a print homework assignment.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

Study Focuses on Student Highlighting

Nonprofit textbook publisher OpenStax is participating in a study of student highlighting habits. It’s working with researchers from Rice University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of California, San Diego, on software that uses highlighting to help improve student comprehension and knowledge retention.

The $1 million research program, funded by one of 18 grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, will ask OpenStax users to volunteer content they highlight to a database to be mined for clues about their understanding of the text. Researchers also plan laboratory tests at Rice, UC-Boulder, and UCSD to create software to leverage the information gathered from the volunteered highlights.

“A number of studies have shown that highlighting does little to improve learning outcomes, but students tend to think that it does, and it makes them feel good about studying,” Philip Grimaldi, a research scientist for OpenStax, said in an article for phys.org. “At the same times, college students generally aren’t willing to change how they study, so we want to piggyback on what they’re already doing—spontaneously annotating passages of text—and turn that from a marginal activity into one that improves learning.”

The goal is to develop software that predicts how well students perform on tests based on what they highlight in their textbooks. From that information, researchers want to build a tool that creates more effective quizzes and reviews, and determines the times that are best to present content so students get the most out of the material.

“The idea is to reformulate selected passages into review questions that encourage the active reconstruction and elaboration of knowledge,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax. “The design and implementation of the tool will be informed by both randomized controlled studies within the innovative OpenStax textbook platform and in coordinated laboratory studies.”

Thursday, September 8, 2016

ED Comes Down Hard on ITT Tech

ITT Tech has closed its more than 130 campuses around the United States, according to a report from Inside Higher Education. The final blow came from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) when it barred ITT Tech’s parent company from accepting new students who rely on federal student loans or grants.

More than 40,000 students and 8,000 employees are affected by the closure. Remaining employees are helping students obtain their records and facilitate transfer to other institutions.

“Today, we know by our experience that a U.S. institution or business can be forced to shut down without proof of allegations,” said CEO Kevin Modany. “The regulatory assault on our schools and institutions is unprecedented. We have had no right to pursue our right to due process, and this should be concerning to all Americans.”

Federal regulators had been watching ITT Tech for a couple of years, following complaints from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. ED required ITT to increase its reserves from $94.4 million to $247.3 million to cover the possibility it might close. The amount represented 40% of the federal student aid the company received in 2015.

“It wasn’t a decision we took lightly,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “Ultimately, our responsibility is not to any individual institution. It’s to protect all students and taxpayers, and I have no doubt our decision to take action was the right one.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Innovators Push for Changes in Higher Ed

To those who don’t work on a college or university campus or in a related field, the term “higher education” often conjures up moldering institutions stuck in an outdated time warp, unwilling to change. But, many schools are indeed trying new things to help their students succeed and to ensure more people can afford a college education.

Washington Monthly profiled 16 leaders in higher ed—not presidents or chancellors, but administrators and academics at schools, government agencies, and nonprofits—who have helped lead the charge in innovation in postsecondary education and access.

“These front-line innovators don’t always have a lot of power,” wrote Gilad Edelman. “So when they try to advocate for new and better ways of serving students, they are typically pushing against resistant leadership, indifferent or threatened colleagues, and a general institutional inertia that makes progress painfully slow.”

The people highlighted in “The Sixteen Most Innovative People in Higher Education” are responsible for programs that support potential dropouts, encourage students to graduate within four years, enable students to take online courses at a lower cost, admit more low-income students, and use technology to monitor student progress and intervene when necessary.

Other programs focus on competency-based education, remedial course requirements, student advising and mentoring, open educational resources, and student-success coaching.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It Pays to Graduate on Time

A new study from NerdWallet found that taking six years to complete a bachelor’s degree could cost a student as much as $300,000 in additional tuition costs, loan interest, and lost income and retirement savings. That’s a problem since the National Center for Education Statistics reported that just 40% of college students graduate in four years.

One solution being tested is making the fifth year free for students who are unable to finish in four. Such programs normally come with strict eligibility requirements, such as working with an academic advisor, taking a full course load each semester, and passing all classes, but it is a way to help reduce anxiety about college costs, according to Tom Kazee, president of the University of Evansville, Evansville, IN.

Evansville launched a fifth-year-free program this fall, but is not alone in trying the solution. The University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, provides students with a free fifth year when they are pursuing academic interests outside of their majors, while Clark University, Worcester, MA,  offers some undergrads a fifth year for free to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  In another approach, Howard University, Washington, D.C., offers a 50% rebate off the final semester of tuition to students who finish early or on time.

“It’s increasingly clear that colleges worry about getting students to finish on time,” Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, told NBC News. “You see a lot of different approaches to that.”

Monday, September 5, 2016

Happy Labor Day

From the NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as our staff in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and happy Labor Day.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Most Institutions Are Offering Badges

More than 90% of colleges and universities now offer alternative credentialing and one in five issue badges, according to research conducted by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association. The popularity of microcredentials is driven by workers who understand that displaying badges makes it easier to highlight specialized skills.

“You can present an employer with a résumé and it shows what you have collectively done over the years,” Charlene Templeton, assistant dean for continuing education at Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, MD, said in an article for University Business. “But a badge shows there are specific things you have achieved.”

Badges can be added to a résumé or shared on social media, allowing employers to see links to detailed descriptions of the skills and competencies developed during the course. Anne Arundel has awarded hundreds of badges in the last two years, while Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York system, has handed out 130 badges in professional development to working professionals in human-resource management and higher-education administration.

“You may be waiting two or four years to earn a degree, but you’re developing skills and knowledge along the way—badges make this knowledge visible,” said Ken Kindblom, interim dean for the school of professional development at Stony Brook.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Grading Is Part of MIT Philosophy MOOC

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is offering a new certificate option for a popular online philosophy course through its MITx platform. It’s the first massive open online course (MOOC) to provide students with the opportunity to have written assignments graded by professional philosophers.

“Listening to lectures and reading books is great, but philosophy is all about taking complex ideas and organizing them in a simple way,” Caspar Hare, the MIT professor running the course, said in an article for eCampus News. “You learn by writing, specifically writing to someone.”

Philosophy: God Knowledge and Consciousness introduces students to the basic topics considered by philosophers and the development of critical reasoning and argumentative skills. Writing helps combine those skills and feedback from trained philosophers lets students know how well they actually understood the material.

“Writing is essential to developing these skills,” Hare continued. “Just answering multiple-choice questions isn’t enough. You need to interact and bounce ideas off of other people. And from MIT’s perspective, the new feature helps bring to light different ideas from people with different cultural backgrounds. Writing enables these insights to pass through the community, which benefits everyone.”