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

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Watson Tries Tutoring

Educational publisher Pearson is partnering with IBM to have the latter’s Watson computer system tutor students via Pearson’s courseware. Watson will translate questions students ask through their learning programs and provide explanations, feedback, and guidance to get past misconceptions.

Instructors will be able to use data gathered from that process to see what parts of their courses are generating confusion for students and also identify which students require additional assistance.

The partnership between IBM and Pearson will try to replicate and expand upon an experiment IBM conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology last year, where students in a computer-science course on artificial intelligence had online access to tutoring from a teaching assistant named “Jill Watson.” Researchers had input all the questions ever asked in that course’s online discussion forum into the Watson platform. They wanted to find out if students would discern a difference between human tutors and a virtual counterpart.

At first, Jill Watson’s answers were “odd and irrelevant,” but by the end of the experiment her answers were delivered with ”97% certainty,” according to the research team. Student response was “uniformly positive” when they were eventually told the nature of their tutor.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Faculty Not Sold on Ed-Tech

College instructors still aren’t that impressed with technology in the classroom. In fact, faculty responding to the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology said they thought the quality of teaching and learning hasn’t been helped by data-driven assessments and accountability efforts, other than to keep politicians off their backs.

Just 27% of faculty members said technology has improved the quality of instruction at their institutions, while the percentage of respondents who said using ed-tech helped to improve degree-completion rates was about the same. On the other hand, 65% agreed that efforts in ed-tech were meant to pacify outside groups.

The survey found that fewer administrators and faculty members said that technology led to significantly improved student outcomes, making it hard to justify the investment. Both groups think institutions are taking the right steps to protect personal information from cyberattacks.

“Faculty members are still worried that online education can’t deliver outcomes equivalent to face-to-face instruction,” wrote Carl Straumsheim in an article for Inside Higher Ed. “They are split on whether investments in ed-tech have improved student outcomes. And they overwhelmingly believe textbooks and academic journals are becoming too expensive.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Florida System Aims for 40% Online Classes

The Florida university system sees online classes as a means to reduce the cost of an education as well as a faster route to obtaining a bachelor’s degree. To that end, the system is ramping up its efforts to enroll 40% of its undergraduates in online courses by 2025.

One of the ways the system will do that, according to a report in the Sun Sentinel, is by cutting distance-learning fees for online classes. Currently six schools in the system charge students more to take a course online rather than in a physical classroom.

A report by the system’s Board of Governors Innovation and Online Committee noted 37 other states charge similar fees to cover the cost of redeveloping a course for an online format, but the report also estimated substantial savings in classroom maintenance and construction if more students can take courses from home.

The report also found that the availability of online classes helped students to graduate more quickly. Students who took no online classes needed 4.3 years on average to earn their degrees, while students who enrolled in online courses for at least 20% of their credit hours managed to finish in four years flat. The online classes may have provided a solution when students were unable to attend required courses in person.

The Florida universities also plan to make some online courses available to students systemwide.

Monday, October 24, 2016

New Guidance on Kids and Screens

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published its updated recommendations on children’s media use.

Where the organization previously recommended no screen time at all for children under two and that children older than that be limited to no more than two hours of electronic media, it now eases up on the restrictions and acknowledges that digital content is not only ubiquitous but also has benefits as well as dangers.

AAP still advises against screen time for children under 18-24 months, although it does now make an exception for video chats via such services as Skype or FaceTime, which can help nurture relationships with long-distance family members.

It also no longer recommends specific screen-time limits for elementary school-aged children or teenagers, saying that decisions on digital media use for those age groups should depend on the individual child and the type of media. The organization does advise that parents “co-view” with younger children, talk about what they’re watching, and discuss online safety and citizenship.

Not surprisingly, the recommendations also say kids should engage in unplugged playtime and get proper exercise and sleep every day, which includes not having any devices in their room at night and avoiding screen use in the hour before bedtime.

Along with its guidelines, the AAP rolled out a new interactive online tool to help parents craft a household media plan to establish appropriate guidelines for each child. Parents can stick with AAP’s age-specific guidance or add in their own family rules, addressing such items as device-free times and areas, what sort of media to avoid, privacy settings, and more.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Higher Ed IT Takes on Cyberthreats

Cyberthreats have become an increasingly difficult threat to defend against, particularly on college campuses, where systems need to be as open as possible for students. What makes it even more challenging for higher-ed IT departments is that the end users are usually the biggest problem.

“I’m an old military guy—or I should say I’m a young military guy—and one of the things I’ve learned is that security is as strong as its weakest link,” Keith McIntose, vice president and chief information officer (CIO) at the University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, said in an article for EducationDive. “You know, we use a chain analogy. It requires everyone who is accessing information on our network—faculty, staff, and students—to be security-aware.”

End users are most often the ones who either use unsecure passwords or click on suspicious links, allowing hackers to gain access. Students are natural targets, but staff and faculty who have access to institutional and proprietary data can be a bigger risk.

The University of Dayton, Dayton, OH, has launched a campaign to reinforce the idea that everything done on the Internet is a potential security risk. The Dayton IT department runs regular phishing tests, sends updates and warnings, and offers incentives and prizes to people who participate in the program.

“Our goal here is that this is no different than any athlete training for the toughest competition,” said Thomas Skill, associate provost and CIO at Dayton. “Every day, the bad guys out there are coming up with newer, better, smarter, faster ways to trick us into doing stuff, so we’ve gotta be exercising every day with our effort to understand when we can recognize a phish and when we can’t, and we’re tracking all the data on what we’re doing here.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Initiative Promotes Graduating on Time

Missouri is addressing college affordability with an initiative called “15 to Finish” that encourages students to take 15 credit hours each semester. Fewer than a third of students at Missouri public institutions take 15 credit hours per semester, according to the nonprofit group Complete College America, even though that’s what it takes to graduate in four years.

As part of the program, the Missouri Department of Higher Education is working with Complete College America on promotional materials and ways to personalize the initiative for each campus in the state.

“In many cases, students need to take just one more three-hour course every semester to graduate on time,” Zora Mulligan, Missouri commissioner of higher education, said in a release. “But completing 15 hours of college credit each semester, students can graduate earlier, enter the workforce sooner, and save thousands of dollars in education.”

An issue for many students is that they are already in the workforce, trying to make ends meet while attending classes. The University of Missouri-St. Louis has been working to push more traditional students to take 15 credit hours for the last year, raising its four-year graduation rate to the highest level in school history, but administrators remain mindful that it’s not for every student.

“Lots of our students are holding full-time jobs, making it more difficult to have students managing a workload of 40 to 50 hours per week and classes,” Adam Bryd Jr., dean of enrollment services, said in an article for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But we’ve done this already. We’ll just work case-by-case, looking at their work schedule and class schedule. In many cases, our students find they can pick up an online class to get them those extra three credit hours.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Students' E-Preferences Depend on Content

A new survey on e-book use in academic libraries not only confirmed there are more college students who would rather study textbooks and monographs in print rather than digital, but also determined the percentage who prefer print is growing as more students encounter problems with electronic learning materials.

However, when students need to consult reference materials, they more frequently opt to use electronic versions. In part, this appears to be due to the speed and ease of looking up information digitally while working on a paper or project.

The survey, Ebook Usage in U.S. Academic Libraries 2016, a follow-up to a similar one in 2012, was conducted by Library Journal magazine and publisher Gale, a subsidiary of Cengage Learning. The rising preference for print was something of a surprise to researchers, as it was assumed more students would choose digital when they became more familiar with the format.

Librarians who took the survey, though, noted students had difficulties with accessing e-books and sustained reading on-screen. Students also didn’t like limitations on printing or downloading.

A separate survey, conducted by Hanover Research for publisher McGraw-Hill Education, revealed a different reaction from students to digital materials. The 2016 Digital Study Trends Survey queried students who had used adaptive learning technology—digital content that had been specifically created for on-screen access, with built-in interactive and responsive elements to help students master academic concepts.

Eighty-one percent of student respondents thought the technology helped improve their grades, especially the adaptive functions and the online quizzes, and 69% said they were able to focus better on the material.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pulling Higher Ed Out of the Middle Ages

Higher education has fallen woefully behind in the race to keep up with technological change, according to a former dean for graduate education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

In an effort to close that gap, Dr. Christine Ortiz is planning a new kind of residential research institution to keep up with advances while preparing students for life in the 21st century. The yet-to-be named institution would allow students to design their own learning paths and work with faculty to build an individual curriculum. Ortiz’s team has already developed software for computer-guided intelligent curriculum design that integrates science, technology, and humanistic fields.

By the end of 2016, she hopes to have started several pilot programs and to incorporate as a nonprofit in Massachusetts. The plan calls for her institution to be open to students by 2020.

“Technology is accelerating, and modernization and expansion of the higher-education system is desperately needed,” Ortiz said in an article for TechRepbulic. “Our higher-education system is still stuck in the Middle Ages.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

A New Look for the Apple Store

The College Store of 2015 Report, a study funded by the NACS Foundation and released in 2010, used the Apple Store as an example for college stores to emulate. Now, the Apple Store is reinventing itself.

“This is one of the new store designs we’re starting to roll out in America,” Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president for retail and online stores, said at the opening of a new concept store in Indianapolis, IN. “We have been intentionally reinvesting in the fleet in America because we had about half of our stores that were opened before the iPhone launched in ’07. We needed to make them larger and more customer-friendly.”

Apple wants its new store to be more like a town square with designated areas for phones and accessories, watches, computers, and repairs. In fact, the Genius Bar in the Indy store has been replaced by the Genius Grove, a section behind a large video screen that allows customers to get service on their devices without being out on the shopping floor.

The new concept also calls for staffers who are expert in the fields of photography, music, and gaming to provide customers with more information on using their new purchases. Taking a page straight out the college store playbook, Apple set aside space, called Today at Apple, to host artist events and other creative opportunities.

“A lot of people who have our products may not come into the store,” Ahrendts said. “Now, they see the avenues in the store, the changes monthly that are happening, and there’s always something new to discover. The plan is to increase traffic dramatically.”

Friday, October 14, 2016

Study Looks at Classroom Tech

A new survey from Campus Technology found that traditional laptops and desktops are the most common forms of instructional technology used in the classroom. Both devices were used in 82% of the time, according to a poll of faculty members from across the country.

More than 500 instructors participated in the study, including 49% who worked in the field of higher education for 21 years or longer. Nearly 70% of the respondents worked at public institutions, with another 23% teaching at private, not-for-profit colleges.

Laptops were ranked as either “essential” or “valuable” by 95%, followed by high-end computers with faster processors, more storage, and dedicated graphic cards by 76% of the respondents. Instructors said they used tech for instruction about 62% of the time, while one in 10 reported using it all the time. A quarter said they used it at least 75% of the time.

Instructors are less thrilled with mobile phones in the classroom. About one-fifth allow their use and 57% allow them with limitations. Another 22% forbid the devices completely.

When it came to use of digital course materials, 74% reported using a mix of digital and paper-based textbooks. A similar number said they used open educational resources to take advantage of free and low-cost content.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Benefits of Digital Course Materials

A survey by publisher Pearson found that most faculty members view digital course materials as beneficial for their students. Nearly 80% of educators reported that students were helped by using more digital in the classroom, while 70% said the switch from print to digital was important or very important to them personally.

The report also noted that 87% of instructors and 86% of administrators said they believe digital learning is “important in resolving challenges facing the education system.” In the survey, 56% of educators said that more than half of the course materials they now use are digital and 82% have used at least one digital learning product in the past six months.

The majority of students (57%) continue to report they prefer using printed materials to study, but nearly the same amount said they would like to be able to access learning materials online. Most students (57%) said it’s the responsibility of the institution to help them make the shift to digital.

“There is growing recognition of the broad-range benefits—for students, faculty, and institutions—provided by digital learning,” Tom Malek, senior vice president of partnerships at Pearson, said in a news release. “Institutional leaders have an opportunity to further explore how digital can provide a rich, more personalized learning experience for students, while lowering the cost of course materials and providing new insights and data for faculty.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Higher Ed's Dual Role: Jobs and Mental Prep

Some say colleges and universities should do more to prepare students for specific jobs. Others feel higher education should continue its traditional role in developing intellectual, analytical, and critical thinking.

There are still others, such as the new president of Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania, who believe both functions are important. In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Christopher B. Howard stressed that institutions need to ensure “students graduate with skills relevant for today’s workforce and an education that prepares them for an increasingly complex and unpredictable world.”

Howard doesn’t see universities morphing into trade schools, but does acknowledge that more need to partner with corporations to make sure classroom instruction remains relevant to current business needs and also to provide real-world experience to students.

A panel of speakers at the International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education, held in Mexico in September, concurred with Howard’s view. “We do both,” agreed Richard Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in the U.S., in a report for University World News. “We prepare citizens for the future, and we prepare folks who have the capacity to think and learn and add value on the job.”

Legon said it’s the responsibility of college and university governing boards, because their members are not part of academia, to promote the value of higher education and also to encourage more innovation on higher-ed campuses.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rutgers Launches OER Initiative

Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, has joined the growing list of institutions turning to open educational resources (OER) to address the issue of rising costs for course materials. The Open and Affordable Textbook (OAT) project is offering grants to faculty and department groups as an incentive to replace traditional textbooks with free or low-cost alternatives.

The project, funded by the Office of Information Technology and administered by Rutgers University Libraries, will award grants of $1,000 to 12 groups from across the entire system. The university estimates the program will save its students as much as $500,000 in the first year.

A class in aggregate economics has already started putting together an open textbook. The required printed textbook has a new list price of $89.99, with the e-book version available for $69.99. Using the library’s Springer e-book collection, a PDF version of the book can be accessed for free and the paperback copy can be purchased for $24.99.

“We are committed to helping our students succeed, and one of the barriers to their success is the 1,000% increase in textbooks over the last 40 years,” Krisellen Maloney, vice president of information services and university librarian, said in a release. “We look forward to working with grant recipients to help them identify free or low-cost alternatives for their courses.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Study Looks at Why Some Students Fail

Too many students arrive on campus with unreasonably high expectations of success, according to a study from the University of Toronto. Students told researchers they would earn at least a 3.6 grade-point average in first-year classes, but only averaged a 2.3 by the end of their freshman year.

The study, which focused on the wide discrepancies in college performance among students with similar high school records, found that the group it classified as “thrivers” averaged A’s in college, while the “divers” group averaged F’s despite receiving respectable grades in high school. What researchers found was that divers were less likely to describe themselves as organized and were more likely to cram for exams.

One trait that did stand out was the amount of time thrivers spent studying. They arrived on campus ready to work, planning three additional hours of study per week on average than their diver counterparts.

“Although some are hobbled by their problems with procrastination and disorganization, these same students clearly have potential,” Jeff Guo wrote of divers in his Wonkblog post for The Washington Post. “They made it through high school just fine, after all, but it seems that college demands far more of one’s ability to manage chaos and temptation.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

Some Will Pay Despite Oregon Promise

The Oregon Promise may not be as free as residents of the state were led to believe. The program was signed into law in July with the governor promising students an “undergraduate education tuition-free at their local community college.”

The promise provides tuition grants to high school students who graduated with at least a 2.5 grade-point average or earned a general educational development degree. They have to enroll in one of the community colleges in the state at least part-time within six months of high school graduation.

Most Oregon students will receive free tuition, according to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission. However, the commission estimates about 3,700 will have to pay something, anywhere from a couple of dollars to about $300 per year, depending on where they enroll.

Oregon Promise deducts the amount students receive in Pell and state opportunity grants from the cost of tuition. Students are responsible for $50 per term and tuition charged for attending more expensive schools or additional costs from taking heavier class loads.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

MicroMasters Advance Careers, Learning

The nonprofit online learning provider edX launched a new category of master’s-level courses aimed at bridging the gap between higher education and the workplace. The new MicroMasters program offers credentials and a pathway to earn college credit.

The aim of the courses is to provide high-quality education from top universities to help students advance their career or work toward earning their master’s degree. Subjects in the program range from artificial intelligence to project management.

Certificates earned in the program represent a quarter to half of the requirements for a traditional master’s degree, according to a report in eCampus News. Textbook publisher Pearson is collaborating with edX on the program, offering MicroMasters courses at its learning centers and providing in-person support.

“As part of our mission to attract the best talent, we understand the importance of providing multiple pathways to degree programs,” said Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. “MicroMasters broadens our admissions pool and also allows learners to demonstrate their abilities through a series of online courses. All who pass earn a credential valued by the marketplace; those who excel may apply and complete their master’s with an additional semester’s residence.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

States, Cities Work to Boost Financial Aid

As the presidential candidates discuss the affordability of higher education for all and hold out promises of free community-college courses, at the state level more financial aid is already being funneled to students in need. Municipalities are also rolling out programs.

The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs found that state-funded aid is up about 6% for the 2014-15 academic year (the most recent year for which it has collected data), according to an Inside Higher Ed report. Grants, which don’t require repayment, made up about 85% of the $12.4 billion in financial aid awarded.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti is working on a plan to provide one year of free classes—two years, if he can secure enough donations—at any of the Los Angeles Community College District campuses to students who graduate from an L.A. public high school, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The L.A. College Promise is intended to help a specific segment of the student body: those who would have to work full-time in order to afford to attend school part-time. Many of these students come from families who earn just enough to disqualify them from other aid programs.

The grants would enable these students to cut back on working hours and enroll on a full-time basis, allowing them to earn a degree or certificate more quickly. Students would also have to maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average to receive grant money.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Penn State Pilots Robots in the Classroom

For the last year and a half, the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) office at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, has been piloting a program to explore ways to use robots in education. The BeamPro Smart Presence System allows students to attend class without actually being there.

The BeamPro technology is being used for a wide variety of projects, including bringing artists to campus virtually, providing tours, connecting  students with their academic advisers, and as a summer outreach program in robotics. Another use envisioned for the robot is allowing students to attend class while off campus because of an illness or family emergency.

“There’s never been a technology that affords you this kind of freedom, and I think it changes the way that we will eventually collaborate or communicate over distances,” Chris Stubbs, manager of emerging technology and media for TLT, said in an article for Penn State News.

The robot has two wide-angle cameras, microphones set up to eliminate echo and reduce background noise, a 17-in. LCD screen, and built-in speakers. Students use a computer application to remotely steer the BeamPro robot to class and can even command the robot to take an elevator or go to other buildings around campus, according to a report in Campus Technology. The device can reach speeds of 2 mph and connects to the Internet through dual-band radios or an optional 4G card.

“Lion Ambassadors could conduct tours, career services could use it for mock interviews with companies located anywhere, and foreign-language classes could invite native-language speakers located internationally to engage in the classroom. That’s just the beginning,” said Kate Morgan, director of virtual education at Penn State Lehigh Valley.  “The future of interaction involves technology like the BeamPro and to have the opportunity to expose our students to it as undergraduates is one more way to prepare them for the millennial workplace.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Is Ransomware Targeting Education?

Education may or may not be the main target for ransomware schemes, according to difference sources. One study from the security-analyst firm BitSight Technologies found that 13% of educational institutions examined by the company had experienced a ransomware attack in the last year, compared to 5.9% of government agencies or 3.5% of health-care providers.

Ransomware disables data from a system until users pay a ransom for its release. U.S. Department of Justice statistics for 2016 indicate there are nearly 4,000 ransomware attacks every day.

“Establishing email security protocols, monitoring key third-party vendors, tracking security ratings, and avoiding file sharing are all ways to mitigate risks associated with ransomware,” Stephen Boyer, co-founder and chief technology officer of BitSight, said in an article for Campus Technology.

Another report from the security firm Datto painted a much different picture for education. The company surveyed 1,100 managed service providers and placed education ninth on its list of ransomware attacks at 12%, far behind professional services (44%) and health care (38%). The study also found that 46% of ransomware attacks came from email phishing, followed by 36% resulting from lack of employee training.

“Malicious emails, coupled with a general lack of employee cybersecurity training, are the leading cause of a successful ransomware attack,” the authors wrote in Datto’s 2016 Global Ransomware Report. “Today’s businesses must provide regular cybersecurity training to ensure all employees are able to spot and avoid a potential phishing scam in their inbox, a leading entrance point for the malware.”