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, June 30, 2017

New Standards Rate E-Books’ Accessibility

Benetech, a nonprofit social enterprise that focuses on scalable technology solutions to improve accessibility and human rights, has rolled out a third-party verification program that lets schools and colleges determine how well e-textbooks meet the needs of visually impaired or dyslexic students or those with other print disabilities.

Called Global Certified Accessible (GCA), the program was developed in conjunction with the U.K.’s Royal Institute for the Blind, Vision Australia, and Dedicon, a Dutch creator of accessibility products and services, and underwent a six-month pilot. GCA is a standardized ratings system for evaluating digital titles based on more than 100 accessibility features. It can be used by publishers as well as school districts and higher-ed institutions, and recommends remediation where content falls short of its standards.

“We find that files improve significantly after first-round reviews and that subsequent files reflect the insights gained from our feedback,” said a Benetech release.

Accessibility is a key issue for schools, both to serve students better and to avoid legal action for falling short. A Blackboard study earlier this year indicated that the average overall accessibility score for college and university campuses hasn’t improved greatly over the past five years, inching up from 27.5% to just 30.6%.

On the publishing side, Ingram Content Group will incorporate GCA into its VitalSource and CoreSource platforms. Elsevier, HarperCollins, Harvard Business Publishing, Macmillan Learning, and Penguin Random House are among GCA’s other early supporters, although the system is now open to all publishers.

“Every publisher should strive to make their content as accessible as possible,” Denis Saulnier, managing director of product design and delivery, higher education, for Harvard Business Publishing, said in a Benetech blog post. “The first step is getting an accurate snapshot of compliance. Benetech’s process is invaluable in identifying areas of improvement and helping to prioritize work.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tool Brings Gaming into the Classroom

“Gameful” instruction allows students to choose assignments they think are challenging and uses software to guide them through those choices. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, recently launched a tool to make that learning approach available in the classroom.

GradeCraft employs competitive leaderboards, badges, and links to unlock information to help students work their way through the coursework. The web application also allows instructors to create course shells in the learning management system (LMS) where students are encouraged to try new things, as well as receive analytics about their progress.

“Everyone starts at zero and then they build toward mastery of the course material,” Barry Fishman, a U-M professor who helped developed the tool, said in a university release. “We get questions about how rigorous a course is given how many students earn high grades, but we consistently hear instructors describe their students doing creative and high-quality work. When you design these environments properly, you can create an incredible learning experience for students.”

The tool, developed in 2012, was made available to all U-M faculty through its LMS earlier this year. Some parts of the gameful learning software are now being used in 58 courses, serving more than 10,000 U-M students. A site license has also been purchased by the University of Arizona.

“We believe gameful is a great way to reconnect students to learning and we’re excited to bring it to a larger audience,” Fishman said.

Monday, June 26, 2017

OER Project Takes Off at Community Colleges

After its first year, Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resource (OER) Degree Initiative appears to be on track for success, according to the 38 community colleges taking part in the project.

The initiative intended to boost the use of OER for community-college courses as a means to reduce the cost for students. A new report released by Achieving the Dream said that “faculty at colleges participating in ATD's OER Degree Initiative are changing their teaching and that students are at least as or more engaged using OER courses than students in non-OER classrooms.”

The report estimated students saved an average of $134 on textbooks per course, although it also noted a more in-depth study was underway to determine true savings “given that not all students purchase textbooks at full price, and some OER savings may be offset by other costs.”

Among the strategies deployed by the initiative was targeting faculty who had experience using digital resources as part of online or hybrid courses and encouraging them to build on that experience in developing and selecting course materials for regular classes. The quality of the materials was the main factor for faculty; cost to students ranked second.

The report also outlined a number of “key actions” to increase faculty use of OER materials, including providing more training and support, better communication of the initiative’s long-term goals, enabling faculty to work together on OER materials to save time, offering incentives, getting noninstructional staff to assist with OER, and “getting students involved in evangelization.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

MOOC Less Stressful to MIT Students

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, departed from its normal practice of marketing massive open online courses (MOOCs) to the public by offering a popular circuits and electronics class to its on-campus students for credit. A study of that pilot program found students who took the class online not only liked the flexibility, but also reported feeling less stress.

MIT launched the pilot to address student concerns over scheduling conflicts. The results have MIT administrators considering more ways to create flexible learning environments for students and professors.

“As you can imagine, MIT students are a very active bunch,” Sheryl Barnes, director of digital learning in residential education, told Insider Higher Ed. “And they expressed frustration they couldn’t resolve scheduling conflicts by having more flexibility.”

There were differences between the MOOC version of the class and the traditional course. MOOC homework and final exam allowed for multiple tries at answers, but provided no partial credit. MOOC students weren’t able to review their graded exam to find out which answers they got wrong, but were provided instant online feedback on homework.

“On the open courseware version of the class, they have lecture slides for each topic that also almost match identically in order of topic,” one student said in the report. “And so I’d just read through all those lecture slides, which were similar, but it was just a little cleaner and a little easier to go through. And they had nice summaries at the beginning of each lecture, like a review of what was covered in the previous set, so I went through those, and then I’d go to the homework, and then while doing the homework, as needed, I’d go back to the videos and watch to listen and review over anything that I didn’t get.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gen Z Blurs Line Between Web and Physical

Generation Z’s first college graduating class has already made its mark on the world by being the first “phigital” generation—a term coined to indicate these young adults (born 1995-2012) don’t separate online from offline. It’s all one experience to them.

In an article for eSchool News, writer Meris Stansbury noted how “phigital” students are reshaping higher education. For one, this group has had access to information via the Internet their entire lives, mostly through mobile devices.

“For higher education, it’s never been more important to allow prospective students to explore their potential institutions via mobile and online methods,” Stansbury wrote.

Because of their exposure to digital technologies, Gen Z seeks more personalization, customization, and individual options when it comes to their studies. While millennials typically liked to tackle class projects in groups, Gen Z students prefer independent work in order to pursue their own goals.

As part of that, Gen Z also expects coursework to provide some sort of real-life connection, such as supporting social causes or honing skills directly related to jobs after graduation.

“In higher education, many colleges and universities have begun tailoring courses, like journalism, to the real world by harnessing ed-tech to mirror current job expectations,” Stansbury wrote. “They’ve also started creating entirely new programs to address current student and job market interests.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

A High-Tech Helper for Students with ASD

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have difficulty with basic social interactions, such as making eye contact, saying hello, or even deciphering what a smile or frown means. But thanks to a Dallas-based company, they can now add another member to their team at school who can help them learn, understand, and practice appropriate social behavior and build confidence in their skills. His name is Milo and he’s two feet tall with spiky brown hair and a superhero-style uniform.

He’s also a robot.

Milo’s face is covered with Frubber, a soft synthetic skin that’s pliant enough to replicate human expressions. Two versions are available: a walking, gesturing Milo and a less-expensive model with the same expressive head but a static body. Created by RoboKind, Milo models facial expressions, speaks—slowly, to help students process what he’s saying more easily—and displays symbols on a chest screen with cues from a tablet-equipped educator who lets Milo know when a child has responded correctly.

Since last fall, RoboKind has been partnering with the Autism Society of America on Robots4Autism, a nationwide school grant program to integrate curriculum delivered by Milo for children ages 5-17. The grants allow interested schools to complete the purchase of their own Milo.

It’s recommended that children spend 30-60 minutes with Milo and an instructor or therapist at least three times per week. One of Milo’s big advantages is that he can teach the same skills over and over with the positive consistency that autistic children need. He never gets tired or frustrated or impatient.

RoboKind has also brought out Robots4STEM, a K-12 curriculum to teach the basics of robotics and coding using Milo’s robot sibling, Jett, and the JettLingo visual programming language.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Higher Ed Embracing Badges

Even though most employers continue to require new hires to have college degrees, diplomas are not always the best way to show that employees have the skills needed to do the job. That’s where digital badges are coming into play.

“The bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. will never go away,” Philip DiSalvio, dean of the College of Advancing and Professional Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said in an article for University Business. “But every higher-ed portfolio is going to have some form of alternative credential that will demonstrate a student’s competency in certain areas.”

Digital badges, available for everything from problem-solving to career readiness, can be posted to social media sites, stored in digital portfolios, and displayed on specially designed platforms. The badges are linked to lists of skills students have mastered, in addition to the grades they’ve received.

Colleges and universities are trying to stay ahead of the curve on badges by developing programs that recognize skills students have acquired through their studies. Badges can connect skills needed in the workforce to what a college teaches, as well as provide a clearer picture of a student’s academic record.

“The reason they’re taking off in higher education is most employers are not getting the information they need about people emerging from higher ed,” said Jonathan Finkelstein, found and CEO of the badging platform Credly. “The degree itself doesn’t get to the level of describing particular competencies.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tech Makes Studying Easier

Technology helps improve grades and makes it possible to study from anywhere, according to students who responded to a 2016 survey from McGraw-Hill Education. The report noted 74% said they preferred to study at home, while 82% claimed digital tools helped them spend more time studying.

The research found that more than 90% of students use laptops and 60% make use of their smartphone to study. More than half said digital learning technology saved them time, better prepared them for class, and gave them more confidence in their knowledge of the course materials.

“College students enjoy and regularly use digital learning technology,” the authors of the report wrote. “Overall, college students agree that digital learning technology is helpful across a wide variety of activities, including doing homework, preparing for exams, and doing research.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

Competitors’ Data Keep Students on Track

College and university administrators are increasingly using data not only from their own institutions but also from other, potentially competing, schools to predict when their students might require an academic intervention.

Observing and understanding data on common factors that impact student retention and success—such as feeling isolated or overwhelmed, selecting the wrong classes, or being unable to afford the next semester—enhances administrators’ ability to proactively identify which students need help. For example, using predictive-analysis processes developed by the University of Texas at Austin, administrators at the University of Kansas discovered that 1,200 out of 1,500 students having difficulties on their campus hadn’t received any kind of intervention.

Both schools are part of the three-year-old University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 11 research universities dedicated to raising undergraduate graduation rates. Since the group’s founding, its member universities have managed to increase the number of degrees awarded by 10%, with a 25% bump among Pell Grant recipients.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Higher Ed Needs to Keep Up with Tech

Higher education needs to develop new educational and training programs to keep pace with the technological changes that are reshaping the job market. Online learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will be part of those changes, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The poll of industry experts and higher-education thought leaders noted that online learning is a flexible format that can play an important role in training workers, but added that requires more “on-demand” training focused on lifelong learners.

“Most of what we now call online learning is little more than glorified textbooks, but the future is very promising,” said David Karger, a computer science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an article for EdTech. “Online teaching will increase the reach of top universities, which will put pressure on lesser universities to demonstrate value.”

Nearly 30% of respondents to the survey said that AI and machine learning will be disruptive forces, killing more jobs through automation than they create. While automation eliminates many jobs, online learning could be the format to provide training for more sophisticated job skills.

“People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central,” Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, said in the Pew report. “It will undoubtedly play a greater role in the years ahead.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

First-Gen Profs to Inspire First-Gen Students

Many college campuses offer some type of academic and social support to students who are among the first in their families to enroll in higher education. The University of California is trying a different tack with a new program involving faculty.

The program, dubbed First-Gen Faculty, encourages professors who were first-generation students themselves to open up about their experiences with their classes. Those who sign up to participate will wear special shirts or buttons during the first week of school next fall so students can identify them.

According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, an estimated 800 faculty from nine campuses are expected to take part. About 42% of UC students are the first in their families to enroll in a four-year school.

“The idea is that first-generation students can seek out professors with similar experiences as role models or mentors,” the report explained. “Faculty members can share advice and alert students to essential campus services.”

The program will also provide training about first-generation issues to UC faculty and staff.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Clickers Can Impair Deeper Thinking

A new study in the journal Computers & Education claims that while classroom response clickers are effective for helping students with rote learning, the devices can actually impair their ability to understand more conceptual information.

The results were most striking when fact-based questions answered with clickers were followed by big-picture conceptual questions. Lead author Amy M. Shapiro, interim associate dean of graduate studies and research, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said that the factual questions appeared to shift students into a “hyperfocus” on factual knowledge that made grasping the deeper concepts that followed more difficult.

“While many published reports indicate the technology can substantially benefit learners, we found that clicker effects are somewhat more complicated than previously reported,” the study said. “The technology’s use appears to interact strongly with overall pedagogy, resulting in different outcomes for students enrolled in large, lecture-based courses than for those in smaller, problem-oriented courses.”

The study, whose results are so far unique, doesn’t recommend that educators delete clickers from their toolbox, but it does suggest limits to the devices’ efficacy in certain types of courses and that instructors may need to consider changes in how they’re used.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Apple Has Big Plans for New AI Chip

While Siri gave Apple an early lead in voice-recognition technology, the competition answered with artificial intelligence (AI) devices, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Reports now suggest that Apple is working on a new AI-enabled processor of its own.

“Two of the areas that Apple is betting its future on require AI,” said Gene Munster, former Apple analyst and co-founder of the venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. “At the core of augmented reality and self-driving cars is artificial intelligence.”

The new chip will be a dedicated module designed to control AI functions while providing battery performance, according to a Bloomberg report. Currently, Apple products use their main processor and graphics chips to handle AI processes.

The new AI chip is reportedly designed to handle functions such as facial recognition in the photos application, some speech recognition, and the iPhone’s predictive keyboard. Developers will also have access to the chip to develop apps that can handle AI-related tasks.

Apple has been designing in-house processors since it created the A4 chip in 2010 for the iPhone and iPad. It has also released dedicated processors for the Apple Watch, the wireless component for its AirPods, and the fingerprint scanner for its MacBook Pro.

The new AI chip has been tested in prototypes of the iPhone, but there’s no word that it will be included in the next generation of the device. Apple will introduce the iOS 11 operating system for iPhones and iPads at its annual developers conference later this month, as well as discuss its updates to laptops, which include faster processing chips.