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

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Robust Mobile Apps a Must on Campus

Students don’t always bother with email, but they do check their smartphones, making it more important for colleges and universities to have a mobile strategy. The University of Texas at San Antonio (USTA) investigated its approach and found three issues institutions must address to connect with their student bodies through a mobile app.

The initiative was part of a 2015 grant the university received to develop its PIVOT for Academic Success Program. PIVOT stands for prepare, inspire, validate, orient, and transition students, and is part of an effort to understand the needs of the increasing number of first-time Latino, low-socioeconomic, and first-generation students on the UTSA campus.

Researchers found that push notifications about grade announcements, assignments, and tuition deadlines helped keep students on track, particularly those struggling to balance their academics and family responsibilities. It also discovered low-income students don’t always have access to a personal computer at home, so it created a mobile app that allows them to add and drop classes, buy textbooks, and communicate with faculty within the app.

The university integrated its student information system into its app so personal financial-aid information can be accessed, such as balances, charges, and alerts when payments are due, right from a student’s mobile devices. Along with all of the campus life information found on most mobile apps, the USTA tool also is compatible with most of the languages found on the USTA campus, which makes communications with students easier.

“Effective communication is key to keeping today’s diverse, mobile-first students engaged,” wrote Chris Hopkinson in an article for eCampus News. “As higher-education institutions continue to focus on boosting graduation rates for all students, a robust mobile strategy is quickly becoming the mainstay to increasing engagement and promoting an inclusive student experience.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Stress and Early Classes Impede Learning

Some college students who score poorly on exams may be able to lay the blame on their brains, not their study habits.

Two recent studies revealed some students’ brain activities may be hindering their ability to comprehend and remember course content.

One study, published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, determined that most people in their late teens and early 20s are biologically wired to be more active at night and consequently sluggish in the morning. College students in the traditional age bracket, according to a report on the study by National Public Radio, may have trouble remaining alert in classes before 10 a.m.

As a result, their learning suffers. These students tend to receive lower scores on morning tests than those later in the day. “While there is no ideal start time for everyone, up to 83% of students could be at their best performance if colleges allowed them to choose their own ideal starting time for a regular six-hour day,” the report said.

Another study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, showed a strong relationship between stress and memory. Students who reported feeling highly stressed during the course often had difficulty recalling material they had studied. The most intriguing finding, however, was that students with the most confidence in their academic abilities typically encountered a greater level and incidence of forgetfulness and their test scores dropped a full grade.

These students also reported they avoided thinking about the course when not in class. Researchers concluded that students who felt stressed by the class may have subconsciously forgotten the material as a means of protecting their self-image as academically proficient.

Monday, April 24, 2017

AI to Take Higher Ed Out of ‘the Dark Ages’

The artificial-intelligence (AI) wave isn’t on the horizon; it’s already here, according to Joseph Qualls, a clinical assistant professor at the Coeur d’Alene branch of the University of Idaho’s College of Engineering. “You are either going to surf that wave or it’s going to crash on you,” he told EdTech Magazine: Focus on Higher Education in a recent Q&A.

Qualls is also CEO and president of RenderMatrix Inc., a research-and-development engineering company, and co-founder of Avid Intelligence, which researches and prototypes AI-focused products for the defense and private sectors.

He predicts AI applications will cause “massive change” from K-12 to higher ed, creating a highly personalized, interactive, and faster path forward for each student. The notion of massive lecture courses and having students all learning the same material may someday be viewed as “education out of the Dark Ages,” Qualls said.

In the long term, “having large universities and large faculties teaching students is probably going to go away,” he added. Until then—for the next 20 years in Qualls’ estimation—instructors will continue to step in when the AI isn’t ready for the task at hand. After that, he noted, professors’ roles might change “from educating a student to educating an AI.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Researchers Create Bendable Touch Sensor

Researchers Create Affordable, Bendable Touch Sensor

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, are working on flexible, stretchable touch sensors that could make the next generation of touchscreen devices bendable.

Sensors are already being used that can detect touch or a hovering finger, and there are also sensors that are foldable, transparent, and stretchable. The work at UBC combines all those features into one package.

To create the sensor, a highly conductive gel is inserted between layers of bendable silicone. The process casts an electrical field above the sensor that can detect touch even while bent. In addition, the materials used in the process are low in cost, making it attractive for use in a wide range of products.

The research, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, is part of a larger effort to create robotic skins that could make human-robot interactions safer.

This video (below) from the UBC Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering offers a closer look at the material used to create the sensor.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

More Students Take Note of Online Programs

Inquiries about online college courses jumped in February, even though for more than a year fewer people have been expressing interest in higher-education programs overall.

A new report from Gray Associates, a higher-ed consulting company, revealed there has been a growing number of queries about online education since November. The drop in general inquiries about higher ed can be explained by the improvement in the economy (which opened up more jobs) and the decline in the number of high school graduates, but reasons for the uptick in interest about online classes are harder to determine.

According to Education Dive, one possibility is “a desire on the part of students for education opportunities that can be accessed nontraditionally,” most likely due to other responsibilities, such as a job or kids at home.

Prospective students don’t seem to be fazed by controversy over whether online programs can deliver the same or better results as face-to-face classes. The timing and availability of online courses may be a bigger factor for them. Colleges and universities continue to experiment with different types of digital programs to see what works.

“Perhaps the diversity of courses is meeting the demand of students, which will only encourage educational institutions to further expand the options of courses available online,” noted Education Dive.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Teacher Buy-In Not Top Digital Priority

In a piece for eSchool News, a Discovery Education executive lays out her case for school districts not to let a lack of instructor buy-in stifle efforts to transition to digital learning materials.

Karen Beerer, vice president of learning and development for the provider of digital content and assessment tools, writes that waiting to get teachers aboard on new education technology can stall innovation and do a disservice to students by not preparing them properly for an increasingly digital world.

She acknowledges legitimate barriers, such as some students lacking digital access at home or tight budgets that may prohibit a 1:1 device rollout. “No matter our concerns,” Beerer says, “we need to recognize that our students are ready—they want to engage with textbooks that are replete with immersive and interactive experiences. They want access to up-to-date information and they want opportunities not only to consume content but to create content as well.”

Her suggestions include integrating digital approaches with traditional teaching strategies, and using new technologies—whether apps, virtual reality, or digital personal assistants such as Siri or Alexa—to help students discover new ways to learn.

Students will also help transition the classroom, she notes, "because when it comes to buy-in with digital, they are leading the charge."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Colleges Provide More Internet Access

Colleges and universities appear to be doing a good jobmaking bandwidth available, with more than 70% offering 1GB or more per student, according to the 2017State of ResNet Report. The study found that available campus bandwidth has increased threefold in the last five years, with about a quarter of the campuses in the survey offering 7GB or more per student.

The survey of 320 colleges and universities reported that while desktops and laptops consume the most bandwidth, smartphones have moved past tablet computers into second place. Smartphones are now seen as academic tools because they allow a more flexible learning environment for multitasking students.

The ResNet report also noted that video entertainment platforms, such as Netflix, consume the largest percentage of campus Wi-Fi, followed by web-based rich content, music, and video games. Classroom learning tools, such as interactive digital textbooks and e-books, were at the bottom of the bandwidth-consumption list.

More than 80% of the institutions reported using bandwidth-management tools, but only 18% cap usage. In addition, 61% of the schools charge a general tech fee to pay for the services.

While bandwidth numbers have improved, a third of the students responding to a 2016 multinational survey said they felt their institutions could still do more. Students claimed that current campus technology was cumbersome and should be more like the apps many use each day on their devices.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Med Students Rely on Web, Not Textbooks

When students attending the American Medical Student Association Annual Convention & Exposition in February 2017 were asked to rank their preferred sources of medical information, textbooks was not the first choice for most. Or even the second choice.

About 47% of med students said they turn to Google for answers to their questions, while 32% named medical websites. Only 7% indicated they would look in their medical textbooks first before resorting to other sources.

The survey, conducted by Merck Manuals, a reference publisher for physicians and pharmacists, did involve a fairly small sample of 180 students, which included some in premedical programs as well as med-school enrollees. However, nearly all of the students agreed that growing up with access to digital technologies has shaped how they learn and gather information.

Being able to look something up quickly on a mobile device made a big difference to them as medical students, although 83% admitted they sometimes had difficulty determining whether an online source was legitimate or credible. On the other hand, 45% of students said they had found useful medical videos on YouTube, something a traditional print textbook can’t duplicate.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Colleges Win by Pairing with Boot Camps

Short-term, narrowly focused, and job-oriented, coding boot camps were initially seen as a potential disruptor of traditional higher education. However, some of the companies offering those programs are now finding they need the imprimatur of established universities in order to have credibility with employers, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The relationships can take various forms. In some, boot camps and colleges share tuition revenues, while in others there are no direct financial ties. In many cases, schools provide space for the courses.

Both groups are finding these arrangements to be win-wins. The boot camps gain greater legitimacy, benefiting from the schools’ more trusted brands, while colleges and universities use the boot camps to expand their capacity to train students in desirable IT-related skills and increase their diversity, since the shorter, lower-cost programs attract more women and minorities.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Study: Adult Learners Aren't Digitally Ready

Many adult learners are either uncomfortable with or don’t want to use the electronic tools necessary for online learning, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The study identified five stages ofdigital readiness among adult learners, grouping 52% of the respondents in a “relatively hesitant” category when it comes to using digital tools in online learning.

“The analysis shows there are several distinct groups of Americans who fall along a spectrum of digital readiness from relatively more prepared to relatively hesitant,” wrote John B. Horrigan in DigitalReadiness Gap. “Those who tend to be hesitant about embracing technology in learning are below average on the measures of readiness, such as needing help with new electronic gadgets or having difficulty determining whether online information is trustworthy. Those whose profiles indicate a higher level of preparedness for using tech in learning are collectively above average on measures of digital readiness.”

The survey found that 33% of American adults are “reluctant learners” when it comes to using electronic devices. Another 31% are considered “cautious clickers” who are confident in their ability to use the tools, but have no plans to take advantage of learning opportunities either online or offline.

Of the relatively hesitant group, 5% are active learners who simply prefer using traditional means of study and 14% are not prepared for online learning in any form. Just 17% of the respondents consider themselves digitally ready for online learning.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Active Learning Classes May Bump Lectures

Instructors lecturing to a classroom of students will probably remain the most common form of higher-education teaching and learning for the time being, but active learning classrooms (ALCs) are on their way.

These student-centered seating setups—stocked with tech tools to enable sharing and collaboration and encourage greater participation—were cited as the top strategic technology in 2017 in a new report from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR).

The report considers ALCs as experimental for now, although it forecasts they will become mainstream within five years, along with a number of other research, academic, and administrative technologies to support such activities as degree auditing, mapping educational plans, integrating student data, public-cloud storage, utilizing mobile devices and apps, and alumni/donor relations.

A fully tricked-out ALC might feature round or curved tables with freestanding chairs so students can work in groups and reconfigure the furniture as needed based on their activities. The tables might come with whiteboards, LCD displays to enable students to share their computer work with the class, Wi-Fi for on-the-spot web research and connections to the school’s learning management system and library, and microphones to aid discussions in larger rooms.

“In practice,” the report conceded, “considerable variation in the levels and combinations of low and high technology persist due to costs, infrastructure, and goals.” Educause recommended that institutions become more familiar with ALCs already in operation at similar schools and work with instructors to determine how the technology might fit into their academic programs.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Horizon Report: High Tech in Higher Ed

The NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Ed Edition, produced by the New Media Consortium in partnership with the Educause Learning Initiative, examines what’s on the horizon for technology in postsecondary education. This year’s topics were chosen by a panel of nearly 80 experts from 22 countries engaging in a three-month virtual discussion.

One new topic for 2017 is finding technological solutions to advance digital access and equity for students from all backgrounds to enable them to succeed and complete their education. Artificial intelligence in the classroom and next-generation learning-management systems are tech developments that are also new to this edition of the report.

Already identified as a trend in previous reports, use of virtual reality, while still a developing technology, will continue grow in higher ed. “The most effective incarnations of this trend,” the report said, “incorporate emerging technologies that enable students to learn in ways they would not be able to on a strictly physical campus.”

Overall adoption of both existing and upcoming technologies, however, will require a level of digital literacy that is still lacking. As a preview for the report states, “Digital fluency is more than just understanding how to use technology.” In short, students need to develop not only technical proficiency but also cognitive skills in order to use technologies to absorb, evaluate, create, and communicate information.

One of the challenges cited in the report as “most wicked” will be rethinking educators’ roles amid a move toward more student-centered learning. That shift will require instructors to retool their approach to act more as “guides and facilitators.”

This year’s Horizon Report also looks back to track topics addressed in previous reports, listing blended learning as the most pervasive trend across the last six years.