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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, December 23, 2016

Taking Back Textbook Sales

There are plenty of reasons for college stores to consider offering a virtual online solution for course materials. The model can reduce costs while providing guaranteed commissions to make up for some of the lost revenue. The newfound space created by the absence of textbooks can also be dedicated to merchandise that produce higher margins.

The Florence O. Wilson Bookstore, The College of Wooster, Wooster, OH, gave the hybrid model a try, but soon discovered that a virtual solution was actually keeping students away. After two semesters, the store decided to offer textbooks again because a branded website with competitive prices simply became another place for Wooster students to search instead of the place to go for course materials.

“College stores have long provided value, serving faculty and students in equal measure with technology, processes, and expertise to support the academic needs of the institution,” Director Kevin Leitner, CCR, wrote in a LinkedIn post. “The hybrid model, while it offers some advantages, puts a college store in danger of disintermediation and irrelevance, the ultimate danger to a college store.”

Editor’s note: The CITE will be on hiatus as the NACS offices and warehouse in in Oberlin, Westlake, and Cincinnati, OH, as well as in California and Washington, D.C., are closed the week of Dec. 26-Jan. 2. Look for the next post to appear on Jan. 4, 2017. From all the staff of NACS Inc., have a safe and happy holiday season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Job Market May Lure Away Students

Heading into the next decade, colleges and universities may have a tougher time selling prospective students on the need for a bachelor’s degree.

An article in The Sacramento Bee rounded up a lot of evidence that young people are gravitating to jobs that only require an associate degree or less. As the economy slowly warms up, companies are adding more of these higher-paying blue-collar positions—roughly 2.5 million of them, according to USA Today.

More companies are also willing to provide extensive training and apprenticeships to new workers in order to gain the exact skills needed.

Of the 11 most rapidly growing jobs in the U.S. right now, just three mandate an advanced degree. Some fields are expected to explode with new jobs, such as carpentry, which is forecast for 24% growth within six years.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Chatbots in the Classroom

Chatbots are being used in retail and finance to provide answers to common customer-service issues on e-commerce sites. Instructors at the BI Norwegian Business School are working on ways to use the same technology in the classroom.

Not satisfied with the choices in learning management systems, advisor Erik B√łylestad Nilsen and his team worked with the educational technology startup Edtech Foundry to pilot Differ, a solution that uses chatbots to encourage students to interact with course materials. Differ is able to respond to frequently asked questions and urges students to participate in class discussions and forums.

“Students have a lot of the same questions over and over again,” Nilsen said in an article for EdSurge. “They’re looking for the answers to easy administrative questions and they have similar types of questions regarding their subjects each year. Chatbots help get rid of some of the noise. Students are able to get answers as quick as possible and move on.”

Chatbots use data from the courses to learn the answers and spot student behaviors. They can also be used to send direct messages to individual students rather than posting information to the entire class. Students using the tool appear to be more open to talking to chatbots than originally envisioned.

“They’re afraid of being judged,” Nilsen said. “There’s no space where they can ask the silly questions, where they can stay out of the faculty’s loop.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

K-12 Issues May Impact Higher Ed, Too

As the new year approaches, predictions for the state of education in 2017 and beyond are starting to pop up. District Administration magazine asked a number of experts to name those issues in K-12 education that could have the most impact on student outcomes. Their answers might apply to higher education as well.

Using new technologies appropriately topped the list, in particular, a need for education leaders to receive more professional development in understanding how to evaluate and deploy tech tools. School administrators should also act “more like coaches” in utilizing technology.

Another high-impact issue is taking advantage of social media to help teachers connect with each other, share best practices, and provide feedback. Most instructors work in relative isolation and need more interaction with their peers when it comes to teaching. In higher ed, for example, many adjunct instructors don’t even have a permanent office where they might get to know other faculty.

The third issue seen as having the most potential effect on student success is ensuring racial diversity in classrooms. Some are concerned other issues, especially financial matters, have diminished diversity efforts.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Primary Schools Face Phones in Classrooms

Phones, tablets, and other electronic devices have become ubiquitous in high school and higher education. Now, they’re turning up in the hands of elementary school students as well, with one recent study finding that children in the U.S. get their first cellphones at about age 10. That has districts scrambling to devise rules to govern their use.

At some schools, phones can only be used for emergencies. Other districts still ban cellphones in primary schools, with an option for families to seek a waiver if their child needs to have a phone with them at school.

Some educators and parents are concerned about the impact phones could have on the culture of elementary school, including the fact that they might exacerbate divisions between haves and have-nots. There are also issues about access, such as using a district’s network vs. a private provider that might not be set up to filter inappropriate content. The presence of phones in the classroom also adds to teachers’ responsibilities.

“I don’t want to spend my time monitoring inappropriate cellphone usage when I could be using that time for instruction,” an elementary school teacher in Silver Spring, MD, told The Washington Post.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Different Look at Online Learning

There are plenty of consultants and management providers willing to advise institutions on the best ways to start an online learning program. Those experts are probably wrong, according to Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning.

Kim offered some unconventional advice in his recent Insider Higher Ed blog, starting with the notion that online programs should not be considered a revenue source, but that the classes should be able to cover their costs.

He also suggested that online programs need to be created in areas that differentiate the institution from others rather than simply offering courses that are in demand. Small classes featuring personal attention and quality are the best way to begin.

“The reasons that small online programs have a good chance of achieving economic sustainability have to do with the cost structure of online learning,” Kim wrote. “Colleges and universities can add more (tuition-paying) students without large fixed-cost investments. No need to build new classrooms or dorms. Almost all the costs will be variable costs—and therefore can rise with enrollment.”

Finally, Kim said online courses should be about learning for everyone involved.

“Thinking of a new online learning program as a disciplined experiment will open everyone up to a growth and learning mindset,” he wrote. “Failures (and there will be many) will be opportunities to learn and improve.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Older Students Shorted at Four-Year Schools

Four-year colleges and universities are still focused on course schedules and academic services geared to the traditional 18-24 age group, which often shuts out older students with full-time jobs and kids. Community colleges, however, are doing better at offering more online courses and counseling, evening and weekend classes, and summer terms to provide greater flexibility to students of all ages, according to The Hechinger Report.

In addition, many schools have been forced for budgetary reasons to cut out services such as day-care centers that are disproportionately used by older students.

“We talk about the college-readiness of our students,” said Daniel Greenstein, director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “How student-ready are our colleges?”

Those 25 and older account for 40% of all U.S. undergraduate and graduate students. “These numbers, they surprise many policymakers,” Greenstein said.

On average, older students typically take longer to graduate and a higher percentage of them drop out altogether. Some have a hard time fitting classes into their work schedules or when child care is available. Complicated transfer policies and procedures also make it difficult for these students to continue their education at another school. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lulu Dives into Academic Publishing

Self-publishing, print-on-demand, and distribution company Lulu Press Inc. recently entered the educational market with its launch of Glasstree, an online publishing platform for academic and scholarly works.

Characterizing current commercial academic publishing as a broken model, Lulu hopes Glasstree will address “critical pain points” in the market by fostering more transparent pricing, speeding up product time to market, and allowing authors to see up to 70% of the profit from sales of their works.

Glasstree offers a menu of services and tools for authors, including traditional peer review and support for open access to works through a partnership with Creative Commons.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Use of E-Learning Content is Growing

Flipped and virtual classrooms, along with blended learning, are the driving forces behind the growth of generic e-learning content and courses, which is expected to increase by 8% in each of the next four years.

Other factors in that expected growth are cost savings produced by generic online classes and the proliferation of mobile devices on campus, according to a report from the technology research firm Technavio. Generic e-learning courses are defined as classes prepared according to a standard curriculum and offered by service providers, educational institutions, and experts.

“Generic e-learning courses have been incorporated across all these methods as [they provide] learning opportunities in any kind of learning methods,” wrote the authors of the report. “This enables faculty and corporates to incorporate various hybrid and unique learning and training methods.”

The study found that the flipped classroom model has more than 50% penetration in the United States education market. In addition, the adaptive-content publishing market will produce $1.07 billion in revenue by 2020 and more than 70% of all corporate training is already done online.