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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Conventions Pay More Lip Service to Hi-Ed

Both Republicans and Democrats have given higher education a plank in their election-year platforms, according to The Hechinger Report. While K-12 education has often been addressed by the parties, higher ed usually doesn’t get nearly as much attention.

Affordability is the main issue for the Democratic Party, although the report said the position doesn’t offer any proposals for helping low-income students to stay in school to get a degree.

“The platform includes promises to support institutions that serve minority students, to promote cheaper loan repayment plans and more state funding for higher education, and to ‘go after’ for-profit colleges that are deceptive. Most striking is the pledge to make community college free,” wrote Meredith Kolodner.

The Republicans are looking to limit the amount of Pell grants and eliminate subsidies for Stafford loans as part of a larger effort to reduce the federal budget, neither of which sit well with students. However, the platform supports revising student-loan rules to help prevent students from ending up with more debt than they can afford.

“Republicans argue spending alone doesn’t improve access to higher education. They have also targeted regulation, saying it vastly increases universities’ expenses—something higher-education lobbyists have also argued, though there’s no reliable research about how much regulartion costs schools—and complicates college-going for students,” wrote Mikhail Zinshteyn.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Digital Reading Gains a Bit with Students

College students still lean toward print formats for their course materials, but they’re using more digital materials these days.

The newly released survey analysis from NACS OnCampus Research, Student Watch: Attitudes and Behaviors toward Course Materials: 2015-2016 Report, showed the largest block of students still prefer to study from traditional print books. However, there was a slight uptick in students—26% in the last academic year, as opposed to 24% the previous year—who would rather use a print/digital bundle. Bundles usually include a print textbook plus online access to a digital version of the book in addition to other materials and study aids.

About 17% of students say they could go either way when it comes to print or digital, depending on the nature of the particular course. Approximately three-quarters of survey respondents had experienced digital course materials for at least one class, sometimes because the instructor required its use to fulfill online assignments.

When students have a choice between digital materials or print, paper wins out as being easier for studying, including being able to flip back and forth as needed and causing less eye strain than a computer screen. The main advantage of digital is convenience—not having to haul a heavy book around campus—but 45% of students said they purchased digital because it was cheaper.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If CC Tuition was Free, Many Would Go

With a number of groups supporting the concept of free community college tuition for students, they might reconsider once they find out just how many students would opt for that.

The 2016 Workforce Readiness Survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Education found that 62% of college students would have chosen to attend community college first or instead of a university if there was no cost for tuition. Apparently students felt they couldn’t pass up a deal like that.

The same survey also revealed that 60% of students don’t think their current school has been all that helpful in getting them ready for a career. That belief may have prompted survey respondents to think more favorably of community colleges, which are more focused on specific job preparedness.

At the state level, legislators are grappling with the idea of a free community college education and how to fund it.

A new report produced by the Education Commission of the States examines financial aid, including state legislation concerning free community college tuition. The report noted that as of July 2016, Oregon, Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Rhode Island had enacted some type of legislation and bills were pending in California, Illinois, North Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts. Eleven other states had introduced measures on free community college, but the bills stalled out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dropouts More Apt to Default on Loans

When it comes to student loans, according to a new report released by the White House, it’s not the size of the debt that matters, it’s the student’s ability to repay it.

Students with large loan balances ($40,000 and up) are less likely to default by the third year. Only 4% of students with loan debts that high typically stop paying. On the other hand, 35% of students with less than $5,000 in debt have defaulted on their loans. In between this high and low, the percentage of defaults drops as total loan debt rises.

The difference is that most of bigger loans were accumulated because the students persisted toward graduation over a number of years and finally graduated with a degree. The report noted that students with more debt also averaged much higher salaries, so they were able to repay what they had borrowed and still have sufficient income for normal living expenses. Even students who only completed a few semesters with no degree may have been able to parlay that education into better jobs than those with little to no postsecondary coursework.

Conversely, students with small loans had often dropped out of school early on for a variety of reasons and gained no improvement in their earning power. They were often at the low end of the salary scale, struggling to pay monthly bills, much less their loans.

The report, Investing in Higher Education: Benefits, Challenges, and the State of Student Debt, also makes a case for programs that enable students to make smaller payments in the first few years after leaving school or to structure payments as a percentage of income. This would reduce the number of defaults, regardless of whether students graduated.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Making Tech Work in the Classroom

Technology in the classroom can be a distraction or it can be used to enhance students’ classroom experience. Stephanie Cole, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas, Arlington, has chosen the latter.

“Using technology changes not so much student behavior as my behavior,” Cole said in an article for Campus Technology. “It makes me craft lectures so that I can apply information and create questions and quizzes. You’ll be amazed at how it makes you rethink how to get information across.”

Cole uses an active learning platform that combines lecture-capture with student engagement, learner analytics, and content-management tools. The system allows her to lead discussions and field questions in real time, and also makes it possible for students to use their mobile devices to ask questions.

The mobile nature of the platform gives student the option to skip her class and watch lecture videos later, so Cole uses it to take attendance and rewards students for their engagement in the classroom. However, the 24/7 access to the course materials and lectures has led to higher grades.

“Great access to lecture material—that is, being able to hear a lecture that you missed or to listen to all or part of a lecture a second time—offers good students an advantage, especially if English isn’t your first language,” she said. “For those students, or where this course is their first exposure to U.S. and American history, keeping up with the class is easier because they can review the lectures at any time. I see more A’s and B’s from these hard-working students.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

House Passes HEA Bills

The U.S. House of Representatives has decided to take a piecemeal approach to the Higher Education Act by recently passing five bills that address some of the easier aspects of the legislation. Overhaul of the entire act isn’t likely to be completed until next year.

Among the bills passed, one would simplify the application for federal student aid and another focused on financial counseling, according to a report in U.S. News & World Report. Other bills dealt with making information about colleges and universities easier to access and improving benefits to historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.

“We have more work to do to strengthen higher education, but today we are making important progress,” said Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce, during a speech as lawmakers prepared to vote on the bills.

The legislation passed by the House has a strong chance of passing in the Senate because states will not have to take on spending to deliver the services to students, according to Education Dive. However, the Senate is still trying to tackle the entire Higher Education Act with one overhaul.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Finding a Way Around E-Textbooks

Some tout digital media as the answer to reducing the cost of print textbooks, but students aren’t all that thrilled with the available e-book alternatives. Joanna Cabot, a senior writer for TeleRead, has an idea.

In a recent column, she suggested that the current textbook models should be replaced with a pay-for-access model where students are charged a fee to use digital content from the college’s or university’s library database.

“It’s almost like Kindle Unlimited for academic articles, in a way,” she wrote. “In the Kindle Unlimited model, I can access every byte of the available library, as much as I want to, while I am paying.” Cabot is currently taking a course which uses library materials instead of a textbook.

In this model, course materials would be replaced by articles available through a library’s subscription service. Instructors list suggested readings on the syllabus with a reference code that is pasted into the search bar to access a PDF of the article. The library database can also be used to research information by subject or keyword, as long as the student paid the subscription fee.

“I think this is a surprisingly elegant model,” Cabot continued. “Now that I’m doing my ‘work’ on a proper computer instead of a tablet, it doesn’t bother me to have multiple browser tabs open. It’s easy to fire up the course message board, open a second tab, and load the library database. I like not having to buy a paper textbook and not having to be ripped off by an overpriced and DRM-hobbled digital effort to copy one. I feel that we are getting more current information by not limiting ourselves to one book source, and since these are not free articles we’re using—the university pays for its various subscriptions—nobody is getting cheated out of their fair due here.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

LMS Engagement Predicts Retention Rates

Colleges and universities often rely on metrics such as grade-point averages (GPA) and academic standing to predict student success. Logging onto the institution’s learning management system (LMS) may be a more accurate indicator.

Data gathered by the education tech firm Civitas Learning suggested the number of times students log into the LMS is one of the best ways to determine if they will stay with the class or drop out, according to a report for Inside Higher Education. Civitas Learning, co-founded by Mark Milliron, a keynote speaker at the 2016 Textbook Affordability Conference, uses predictive analytics to provide colleges and universities with insights into ways to help students succeed.

The for-profit Strayer University uses Civitas data to review its LMS engagement numbers from the beginning of the semester and has experimented with faculty members reaching out directly to those students who don’t log on often. The intervention resulted in a 5% increase in class attendance and an 8% decrease in course dropout rate.

“It’s a key early signal that they can use with students,” Laura Malcolm, vice president of product management at Civitas, said of the data gathered by the firm. “The more you focus on behavior, the more predictive it becomes.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Better Job Report for 2015 Grads

There have been plenty of studies that report college graduates can’t find jobs and employers aren’t satisfied with the skill level of the grads who do find employment. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) would beg to differ.

The association surveyed nearly 500,000 graduates from 2015 and found the majority were either employed or in grad school within six months of graduation. A greater percentage of 2015 graduates landed jobs than those who graduated in 2014, and fewer accepted part-time positions.

More than 65% of respondents who earned associate degrees in 2015 had either found a full-time job or were continuing their education. The percentage topped 70% of the graduates with a bachelor’s degree who either had a full-time job or went to grad school.

The graduates also landed better jobs. The survey reported that the average salary of 2015 bachelor’s grads was $50,219, compared to a $48,190 average salary just the year before.

The report noted that 76% of computer-science students found employment, with majors in social sciences, English, and history all improving their employment figures when compared to the Class of 2014. Graduates from New England and the Plains states did the best in finding employment after graduation, while respondents from the Southwest or far West were the least likely to be employed full or part time.

“Overall, 2015 was a comparatively good year for graduates,” wrote the authors of the report. “Employment improved and starting salaries were up. A smaller percentage of the class had not yet found a landing six months after graduation than had the graduates from the Class of 2014 at the same point.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

Take More Courses to Graduate Quicker

Debt has become a $1.3 trillion problem for college students. Taking more courses each semester could be part of the solution.

If students would just take on 15 course-credit hours instead of the traditional 12, the savings are estimated at nearly $13,000 for someone trying to earn a four-year degree, according to a report by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. The study showed that Tennessee students who signed up for 15 course credits in their first semester paid 10%-20% less per degree in tuition and fees.

Completion rates for the 15-credit students rose as well, according to an article in The Atlantic. Those community college students were 6.4% more likely to earn a degree, while the same held true for 11% of four-year students.

The report noted that students who started their college careers by taking 15 credits had the same pass/fail rates as those with 12-credit terms. The research did find that students with lower high-school grade-point averages didn’t fare as well with the extra load.

The Columbia research reinforces the results of a 2012 study that showed part-time community college students were less likely to complete a degree than their full-time counterparts. It also confirmed the findings of the “15 to Finish” campaign, a program developed at the University of Hawai’i.

“Research shows that students with a full-time course load, meaning 15 credits per semester, who consistently enroll full-time are most likely to graduate,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in an education committee hearing last year. “However, a 2013 survey of institutions showed the majority of so-called full-time college students are not taking the credits needed to finish in four years for a bachelor’s or two years for an associate degree.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

Making Tech Work in the Classroom

Technology in the classroom can be a distraction or it can be used to enhance students’ classroom experience. Stephanie Cole, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas, Arlington, has chosen the latter.

“Using technology changes not so much student behavior as my behavior,” Cole said in an article for Campus Technology. “It makes me craft lectures so that I can apply information and create questions and quizzes. You’ll be amazed at how it makes you rethink how to get information across.”

Cole uses an active learning platform that combines lecture-capture with student engagement, learner analytics, and content-management tools. The system allows her to lead discussions and field questions in real time, and also makes it possible for students to use their mobile devices to ask questions.

The mobile nature of the platform gives student the option to skip her class and watch lecture videos later, so Cole uses it to take attendance and rewards students for their engagement in the classroom. However, the 24/7 access to the course materials and lectures has led to higher grades.

“Great access to lecture material—that is, being able to hear a lecture that you missed or to listen to all or part of a lecture a second time—offers good students an advantage, especially if English isn’t your first language,” she said. “For those students, or where this course is their first exposure to U.S. and American history, keeping up with the class is easier because they can review the lectures at any time. I see more A’s and B’s from these hard-working students.”

To Ban or Not to Ban Computers

Studies have shown that students using computers in the classroom tend to do poorly on tests when compared to peers who take notes by hand. Research conducted at West Point found the same results, but did it in a way that could make a more compelling argument for banning the devices from classrooms altogether.

In a study of 726 sophomore cadets in 50 offerings of a course in introductory economics, researchers were able to assign students at random to versions of the course that either banned all devices, allowed unrestricted use, or gave permission to have a tablet computer face-up on the student’s desk. All students then took the same exam at the end of the semester.

This large-scale randomized control trial (RCT) method of study made it possible for researchers to compare the same measures of learning for all students. While the results clearly suggest that banning computers in the classroom makes sense, it might not make great policy, according to Tania Lombrozo, professor of psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

“The findings to date suggest that banning computers from classrooms may be the most sensible policy to adopt,” she wrote in a column for National Public Radio. “But there’s a more general policy that’s also worth keeping in mind: the policy of constant experimentation and improvement. We can’t always approximate an ideal RCT, but we can stifle opportunities for progress by applying a policy uniformly, without variation. We can only inch our way beyond the status quo by trying out different options, subjecting them to rigorous comparison, and repeating as needed. That means entertaining a new suite of potential policies, not just discarding the superseded.”

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A New Look at MOOC Completion Rates

Researchers have been trying to figure out why completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs) tend to stay around 10%. A new study showed that putting learners into study groups based on communication preferences isn’t the answer.

The research done at Pennsylvania State University showed that the groupings had no significant impact on students’ performance or completion. Participants in the survey were put into groups based on their preferred methods of communications for the course: asynchronous, which allows students to learn at their own pace with common online communication such as email or discussion boards, or synchronous, a more facilitated form of communication such as videoconferencing.

“These differences were statistically different and were moderated by English language proficiency, gender, level of education, and age,” Adelina Hristova, a Penn State doctoral student and one of the collaborators on the report, said in an article for Penn State News. “Although the groups designed for the study did not significantly influence students’ course performance and completion, our study can serve as baseline data for making grouping decisions in future online courses, including MOOCs.”

The study did note that older learners were more likely to complete the course. It also found that female students preferred to study in groups, while males preferred synchronous communications for the course.

“It has provided me with a fabulous opportunity to study how students of different ages, cultures, genders, and educational backgrounds learn and practice some of the subjects that I teach—namely, design, problem-solving, and creativity,” said Kathryn Jablokow, a Penn State associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering design. “Those insights influence how I formulate new research studies, and the MOOC also gives me a unique setting in which to test and disseminate new research results.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Taking Nontraditional Paths to College

The New York Times reported in May that Malia Obama would attend Harvard University, but only after spending a year away seeking experiences outside of the classroom. The gap-year approach is one of three ways identified in a new study as the most popular nontraditional pathways students take instead of going straight to college.

The other options are collecting credentials and badges from online resources and skills program to skip college altogether.

“College costs keep growing and student debt is over one trillion dollars,” Richard Wang, CEO of the coding bootcamp Coding Dojo, said in an article for eCampus News. “These alternative education options can help keep student debt under control while providing individuals with real-world experiences and skills employers are looking for in job candidates.”

The report noted that colleges and universities support nontraditional alternatives as a way to help students perform better once they do arrive on campus. Admissions departments can also focus on those interests developed through a year of personalized learning to attract the best students.

“As a result of these educational developments, I refrain from spending all of my counseling hours talking about grades, classes, and test scores,” said Alex Ellison, founder of the educational consulting firm Dunce Labs. “Instead, I dedicate time with the students with whom I work to explain the values of starting a blog, creating an independent project they can be proud of, and building a unique portfolio of all the cool stuff they have done over the years.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Colleges Invest Big Bucks in Open Materials

In an effort to lower the cost of course materials for their students, colleges and universities are ramping up initiatives to create their own open educational resources (OER), sometimes with funding and assistance from outside organizations.

The biggest project to date, the OER Degree Initiative launched by Achieving the Dream (ATD), a network of 38 community colleges in 13 states, received a lot of attention when it was announced in June. Many of ATD’s schools had individually dabbled in creating open materials on a small scale. By collaborating, though, ATD was able to secure $9.8 million from a group of major foundations to support development of free digital courseware for entire degree programs.

In Canada, the provincial government of Saskatchewan has set aside $250,000 to help produce nine open textbooks and coursepacks for students at the University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. One of the books in development—on the topic of engineering economics—is intended to supplant a traditionally published book that retailed new for $202.

It will take a year before that book is ready for class use. Saskatchewan and ATD, like others pursuing OER endeavors, are obviously counting on their initial investments to pay off over a long time, with little expenditure needed to keep the resources up to date.

California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College took a slightly different route for their joint degree program in sustainable hospitality management. The two schools partnered with the Monterey County Hospitality Association to gain support from the private sector. Local companies involved in tourism have contributed funds toward course and OER development. Students enrolled in the program obtain their free materials digitally through the campus library.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Scoop on Students and Course Materials

College students spent an average of $602 on required course materials during the entire 2015-16 academic year. Adding in school supplies and technology items needed for coursework, their total expenditure averaged about $1,302, according to the Student Watch 2015-16 survey report.

Students would still rather study from print materials—easier to use, navigate, and read, according to survey results—but they will turn to digital materials if required by their instructors or if the price is lower than print. Students also like the portability of digital materials.

Rented materials, both print and digital, continue to be a popular option with students.

The two-wave study (fall 2015 and spring 2016) yielded more than 42,000 responses from students at 56 institutions. The study, conducted by NACS’s research arm, OnCampus Research, focused on students’ acquisition and use of course materials.

A free webinar, underwritten by the NACS Foundation, will provide an overview of the Student Watch data. Elizabeth Riddle, director of OnCampus Research, will highlight the year’s key findings at 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, July 14.

Advance registration is required in order to receive login instructions.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Use of Alternative Credentials Grows

A new study found that 94% of colleges and universities are offering some form of alternative credentials to their students. It also noted millennial students were more likely to favor educational rewards built around badging and certificates rather than the traditional bachelor’s degree.

The research from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Pennsylvania State University, and the publisher Pearson reported that one in five institutions offer badges and 64% of respondents said their institution saw the use of alternative credentialing as an important strategy. It also found that 71% of institutions consistently work with the business community to offer their students internships and job placement.

“The degree will always be an important credential, but it won’t always be the gold standard,” Jim Fong, director of the UPCEA Center for Research and Marketing Strategy, said in a release. “As millennials enter the prime years of their careers and move into positions of greater power, we’ll see more alternative credentials for specific industries and possibly across the board. Higher education institutions, especially those in our survey, are showing that they are being progressive with workforce needs.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Potential of Microsoft Buying LinkedIn

There’s been plenty of speculation on the reasons why Microsoft would bid $26 billion to acquire the social-networking service LinkedIn, with most focused on the considerable short-term benefits. The long-term possibilities may be even more important, according to a report for Quartz.

Microsoft’s Office Suite is already a dominating force in the productivity-tool market. By adding LinkedIn to its portfolio, Microsoft could position itself to not only have the products that help employees do their jobs, but also provide educational resources to help them get hired.

“Microsoft can drive the evolution of the competency marketplace in ways LinkedIn as a standalone company couldn’t,” said Ryan Craig, managing director of University Ventures, a private equity fund focused on the higher-ed sector. “They can offer a complete human-resources solution.”

LinkedIn already makes two-thirds of its revenue through solutions for HR departments and tools that deliver leads to salespeople. LinkedIn also owns Lynda.com, an online education platform that provides skills training.

“One could imagine a much bigger role for LinkedIn as competency-based education goes mainstream,” Joshua Kim wrote in his Insider Higher Education technology blog. “The switch from time-based to skill-based credentialing will be hugely important for some (although not all) sectors of higher education. LinkedIn has the potential to combine professional networking with just-in-time training and alternative credentialing.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Campus Blockchain Initiative Underway

Blockchain technology, developed as a digital ledger to record transactions using the digital currency bitcoin, is finding its way onto campus. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and educational software provider Learning Machine recently launched an open-source initiative that allows institutions to create, share, and verify blockchain-based educational credentials.

The potential uses of blockchain technology on campus include providing credential verification and tracking students’ progress through their coursework. Through the platform, credentials collected by students can be securely shared with anyone, such as an employer, who requires official documents.

The platform ensures the documentation sent is authentic and valid, according to a release on Blockchain News.

“The goal of our collaboration with the MIT Media Lab is to empower individuals with shareable credentials that can be used peer-to-peer and verified as authentic,” said Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine. “The current system for sharing official records is slow, complicated, expensive, and broken for everyone in a myriad of ways. The first generation of students to grow up entirely during the Internet age have started applying for college, and many admissions officers can share stories about applicants trying to text photos of their academic records. The expectations, while seemingly humorous, convey an honest impression about the way things should work. It should be that easy for people to share certified records directly with others and have them trusted as authentic.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Not All OA Publishers Are the Same

An avenue around traditional subscription-based publishing probably sounds like a good idea to many faculty members. The problem is that not all scholarly open-access (OA) publishing firms are equal.

That’s where Jeffrey Beall can help. Beall, academic librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver, has created a list of publishers that he feels do not meet sufficient standards and a blog to spread the word. The list is very long, with more than 120 companies listed as “questionable, scholarly open publishers” in the “A” section alone.

“Too many open-access advocates think that because OA is not a problem for them personally, they’re not a problem at all,” Beall told Inside Higher Education last October. “This is absolutely not true. Research published in predatory journals is polluting the entire scholarly publishing ecosystem.”

Beall’s list is updated regularly and the criteria for inclusion are about as long as the list of publishers.

“Unfortunately, the pressure to publish in the academic system is liable to keep scholars eagerly looking for outlets,” British poet Paul St. John Mackintosh wrote in a post for TeleRead. “Said scholars, however, would be well advised to look over the criteria for Beall’s list and the list itself. Clearly, not all open is good.”

Monday, July 4, 2016

Enjoy the Fourth!

From all of 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 Fourth of July.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Helping Business Fill Empty Classroom Seats

No one benefits from empty seats in a college classroom. A new online platform is being developed to provide a solution.

Anyone’s Learning Experience (ALEX), a company led by students from Harvard University, created a program that matches the educational needs of employers and their employees with excess capacity in classrooms. ALEX received $10,000 in funding from the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard to get the project off the ground.

ALEX works with businesses that already offer tuition assistance to their employees. The goal is to help employers reduce training costs while improving employee development and retention. The company is currently focused on Boston-area businesses, but plans to roll out the program to other cities.

“Many people are struggling to improve their education, companies need better-trained employees, and every year there are about two million unfilled U.S. classroom seats—there is a huge need and potential for the platform we’ve created,” Sergio Marrero, CEO of ALEX, said in a release for University Business. “Connecting working professionals without college training with available seats in classrooms is an effective and cost-effective way to help business thrive while improving the lives of millions of people.”