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, November 30, 2016

Schools See Success from OER Push

Some colleges and universities believe their efforts to switch from commercially published textbooks to open educational resources (OER) are paying off for students as well as faculty.

Higher education institutions are approaching OER in different ways, as a University Business article highlighting five schools shows. Some, like Wiley College in Texas, are moving all courses over to OER while others, such as the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, are offering competitive grants to encourage professors to adopt OER for individual courses. Schools are tapping a mix of resources that include faculty-written materials, readings available online or from the campus library, and materials acquired from organizations such as MERLOT and Lumen Learning.

In every case, though, helping students save significant money was the impetus for OER, not dissatisfaction with the quality of the traditional textbooks available for purchase. However, schools are also seeing a pedagogical bonus as faculty are able to tailor course materials more closely to their instruction.

“The notion that there will no longer be textbooks is implausible,” said Edna Baehre-Kolovani, president of Tidewater Community College in Virginia. “But the reasons OER is growing are student demand and faculty interest.”

On the down side, institutions are aware that creation of OER isn’t a one-and-done deal and they will have to factor in a process for ongoing updates.

“OER is like a free puppy,” said MJ Bishop, director of the University System of Maryland’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation. “There are still costs of maintaining them and keeping them current.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Melding Creativity and Tech for Gen Z

According to an Adobe Education survey, 93% of Generation Z—the demographic cohort after the millennials, with birth years from the mid-1990s to early 2000s—view classroom technology as essential to their preparation for a career. Eighty-nine percent also see creativity playing a big role in their identity and efforts to succeed.

Some higher-ed institutions are already establishing programs to address that intersection of tech and creativity for this next generation of college students.

An article in EdTech: Focus on Higher Education details three such programs, at Parsons School of Design, Clemson University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. Initiatives include a high-tech studio for academic programs in animation, film, and game development, and a partnership with Adobe’s education division for an open-access digital learning space that features recording studios and on-campus student internships sponsored by the company.

“Today’s students want to make a difference in the world, and they want to do it using the technology tools they’ve grown up with,” Jim Holscher, vice president of education field operation for Adobe, said in a press release.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

From all the staff at NACS Inc. in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Students Own Less Tech Than You Think

Nearly all college students possess a smartphone and some type of computer, but despite their reputation for being crazy about fun tech gadgets, students don’t actually own a lot of them.

According to a NACS OnCampus Research student survey conducted in October, 95% of students already have a smartphone and 17% plan to buy a new one sometime in the next year. Almost 94% own a laptop computer and 21% have a desktop computer, indicating some students have more than one computer at home. Tablets are also popular, with 46% of students owning one.

However, far fewer students are owners of video game consoles (38%), MP3 players (22%), smart TVs (21%), wearable tech such as FitBits and smartwatches (20%), e-readers (12%), or drones (1%). Some 53% of students have no plans to acquire any new tech devices in the next 12 months.

Tech accessories are another story, though. Ninety-one percent of students already own headphones and 28% are looking to buy a pair in the next year. More than 88% have a phone case, but 40% expect to purchase a new one. Most students also own a flash drive (84%), car charging device (68%), and laptop case (52%).

Students also have quite a few other tech accessories in their possession: audio speaker (48%), wireless mouse (46%), portable power bank (40%), tablet case (34%), charging station or dock (19%), wireless charging device (17%), laptop lap desk (15%). mount or stand for phone or tablet (10%), or e-reader case (9%).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Creating Optimal Conditions for Learning

Using computer games and wearables, researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are analyzing the effect young students’ physical and emotional states have on their attention and self-control during different tasks, especially learning. The results may reshape instructional methods and where school systems focus their efforts and investments.

“We think that if we understand the different physical and emotional states related to attention and self-regulation, we could develop targeted interventions for children and adults to achieve greater well-being,” principal researcher Catherine Spann said in a release.

Volunteers aged 7 and older answer questions about their levels of self-control and attention in everyday life, as well as how they’re feeling that day, and then move on to play games on an iPad while a wristband tracks their heart rate and skin activity, which gives an indication of how calm and engaged they are. Subjects’ scores are determined by accuracy and reaction time in completing game tasks.

“We need to understand the conditions under which people optimally learn and the ways that educators can best support students,” said George Siemens, executive director of UTA’s Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Research Lab, which is conducting the study in collaboration with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s Research and Learning Center.

Friday, November 18, 2016

ED Proposed Challenge for VR Developers

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has opened a competition for immersive-simulation concepts that prepare students for the global workforce of the 21st century. The EdSim Challenge will award $680,000 in prize money to the top computer-generated virtual- and augmented-reality educational experiences that work with skill-building content and assessment.

Submissions will be judged on learning outcomes and must have clearly defined goals, a description of the student skills the challenge will help improve, and a way to provide feedback. Five finalists in the EdSim Challenge will earn $50,000 each and access to expert mentorship to build a prototype, with the remainder of the $680,000 prize money going to the winning entry.

“This initiative is an exciting example of how virtual reality and game technologies can be applied to give students everywhere the tools to prepare for future success,” said Johan Uvin, the Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education. “We encourage developers from all disciplines to answer our call and help define the future of applied learning.”

Challenge entries must be submitted by Jan. 17, 2017. A complete list of rules is available at www.edsimchallenge.com.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Majority of Kids Read E-Books, But Favor Print

Some studies say youngsters are reaching for more e-books while others say kids still prefer print books. Scholastic’s fifth edition of the Kids and Family Reading Report shows both.

Digital reading is indeed on the rise with children of all ages, the study found. In 2010, just 25% of kids had read an e-book. That jumped to 61% in 2016. However, of those who had read an e-book, 77% conceded most of the books they read are still on paper.

Even more, it appears kids don’t expect print books to go away any time soon as 65% agreed they will “always want to read books in print even though there are e-books available,” according to the report.

Nevertheless, some companies think device-happy youngsters are ripe for digital reading material. Amazon just released a new mobile app, dubbed Rapids, that enables kids to read age-appropriate short stories on their mobile devices, including an option to read the dialogue as text messages between characters.

Intended for children aged 7-12, Rapids includes an audio component so they can read along while listening to the story. Rapids’ stories are available as a paid monthly subscription (not included with Prime membership).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Online Cheating Changes Teaching

Tutoring services, online study guides, and digital forums where students can request help on their homework abound, with some students posting copyrighted homework assignments on the sites, and some “tutors” supplying entire finished papers for users. In response, some faculty members are changing how they conduct their courses.

Some instructors expend added time to craft a fresh set of homework questions for each new semester of a course, or only allow students a quick look at their graded assignments before having them turn the work back in so it can’t be posted online. Others are altering their grading scales to give more weight to in-class exams rather than written papers, which leaves them fewer measurements for calculating a final grade.

While many student-support sites have policies and honor codes in place regarding copyrighted content and completion of students’ work for them, actual self-policing appears to be minimal or nonexistent. It’s up to faculty themselves to search out whether their copyrighted intellectual property has been posted illegally and then file a takedown request via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Survey: Americans Don't Trust College Value

Many Americans are unhappy with state of higher education and no longer convinced it’s worth the trouble. Nearly half of the respondents to a poll taken in August by Public Agenda said a college education is no longer a good investment because of the debt incurred, while 44% said they considered schools to be wasteful and inefficient.

About 60% also said institutions are mainly concerned about their bottom lines and that a college education is no longer necessary to be successful. Even more troubling is that the results were similar to a February poll conducted by the Gallup Purdue Index.

The outlook isn’t much better for students already on campus. An annual survey of more than 140,000 low-income students reported that because of costs only half actually enrolled into their school of choice. A third said they couldn’t afford their first choice and nearly 90% picked a school based on cost.

“Students are also less likely than in the past to go to college just to learn, the survey found,” education writer Jon Marcus wrote in an article for Hechinger Report. “A record 60% said they were pursuing degrees because they want to get good jobs.”

College graduates did admit to researchers that their education made an impact on their lives, but not necessarily in a good way. One poll found that about a third of grads who borrowed money for college had put off buying a house and a quarter postponed starting a business because of the debt.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Students Consider Tech Tools for Shopping

Many college students are shopping at mainstream retailers with mobile apps and they’d like to use similar apps at their campus bookstore, according to a September 2016 student survey conducted by NACS OnCampus Research. However, they’re not as familiar with other shopping aids, such as chatbots and online check-in.

In the 90 days prior to the survey, 34% of students had used a store app and cited mobile coupons, ease of use, and quick loading as the aspects they liked most. Students also appreciated being able to determine whether certain items were in stock and to read product reviews.

Two-thirds expressed interest in an app offered by their campus bookstore, especially if they received a discount for downloading the app, earned instant coupons when they entered the store, or had the ability to check on prices for selling back used textbooks.

Only 3% of students had taken advantage of a chatbot to interact with a store online in real time while 11% had used chatbots in other circumstances. Stores that offer this feature need to promote it, as more than 60% of students confessed they didn’t know what a chatbot was.

Students had more experience with online check-in, which provides a text message or other notification to alert customers when it’s their turn for service, instead of waiting in a physical line. About 23% had used online check-in while 42% indicated interest in trying it out.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Disability Focus Shifts to Digital Barriers

While it’s now routine for higher-education institutions to provide physical accommodations to ensure disabled access, such as ramps and automatic doors, new barriers are being found in digital course materials, websites, and learning platforms, leading to lawsuits brought by disability groups and remedial actions ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Advocacy groups are working to ensure that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and similar antidiscrimination laws are interpreted to apply to learning technologies that didn’t exist when the law was signed more than a quarter century ago. They’re also hoping for movement on proposed new DOJ rules governing how all public entities, including public colleges and universities, offer their services online.

The University of California, Berkeley, was found in violation of the ADA because much of its free audio and video content posted online lacked captions that would make it accessible to deaf students. Last month, Miami University, Oxford, OH, agreed to retool its accessibility policies as part of a settlement with a blind student who’d sued over inaccessible course materials and a lack of trained assistants.

Those and similar cases exemplify what the National Federation of the Blind characterizes as a school-by-school approach to protecting students with disabilities from being left behind by the digitization of higher ed.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Math Teachers Speak Out on OER

Open educational resources (OER) are seen as part of the solution to course material affordability. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NTCM) has issued a warning that too many open resources are not necessarily a good thing.

In its official position, the organization recognized that OER can stimulate discussions among teachers, allowing them to form communities to share ideas and compare results. NTCM also pointed out that OER can provide teachers with ways to use innovative technology.

At the same time, NTCM warned that OER can be difficult to organize and the resources students have access to can vary by teacher and school. Another risk is the potential for schools to drop the vetting process of the resources.

“A coherent, well-articulated curriculum is an essential tool for guiding teacher collaboration, goal-setting, analysis of student thinking, and implementation,” NTCM said in the release. “In a time when open educational resources are increasingly available, it is imperative that teachers be provided with curricular materials that clearly lay out well-reasoned organizations of student learning progressions with regard to mathematical content and reasoning.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Syllabus Databases Assist Course Creators

When faculty start developing new courses, they often want to know how other professors have structured similar courses and what textbooks they’re using. Likewise, textbook authors are keen to find out who has adopted their works for classes.

The Open Syllabus Project (OSP), a new database with three million course syllabuses, is designed to help both groups, and possibly also aid textbook publishers to better understand the ways in which faculty use course materials for teaching. OSP, set to open in January 2017, isn’t the first of its kind, according to an article in Nature, but it will be the largest to date.

Another database, Open Syllabus Explorer, launched in early 2016 with plans to expand its inventory next year to three million syllabuses cross-referenced with 150 million texts. Both databases can be searched in a number of ways: by academic field, textbook author, institution, and other criteria.

For now, there are limitations to these databases. They hold just a fraction of the estimated 80 million to 120 million syllabuses in the U.S. because at present they can only access syllabuses posted on public websites. Those stored in a school’s learning management system, for instance, aren’t accessible. Although a search can show which textbooks are most widely used in a particular field, the results can’t be filtered by subfields.

The team working on the OSP database also hope it will give faculty who write textbooks and other course materials a chance to promote themselves more by revealing the extent to which their published work is used in other classrooms.