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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Monday, July 31, 2017

Immersive Tech Nears a Tipping Point

Higher education is closing in on a tipping point for immersive learning, according to Marci Powell, chair emerita and former president of the United States Distance Learning Association. Immersive includes 3-D, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), which refers to a hybrid environment where physical and digital entities interact in real time.

For Campus Technology’s midpoint check-in on the year’s ed-tech trends, Powell noted that the prices for virtual-reality headsets are heading sharply down as new models continue to roll out, and AR- and VR-ready laptops are negating the need for expensive hardware and servers to support VR. She added that the growing number of VR lesson plans available makes assembling a curriculum with the technology faster and easier.

However, since have/have-not gaps haven’t yet been fully bridged for such comparatively common needs as smartphones and broadband access, the market is still far from a point where all students can use more advanced immersive tech at home or in the classroom. Institutions should be working now to ensure they’re able to provide such access as the technology becomes more mainstream.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Study Takes a Closer Look at Alternative Ed

Educational programs providing students with ways to acquire practical job skills are often praised as a shorter and cheaper alternative to traditional college. However, new research has shown that it’s not quite that simple.

The report The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways, a study conducted by Ithaka S+R for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found the earning power of the different programs varies widely and depends on the subject studied. For instance, a person who has a computer-science certificate can expect to earn twice as someone holding much as a health-care or cosmetology certificate.

The study also found that certificate programs, work-based training, and competency-based programs tend to attract older, lower-income students who have not completed a college degree. At the same time, 80% of IT bootcamp participants and 75% of those enrolled in massive open online courses already have a bachelor’s degree.

Researchers found little evidence to determine how effective the many programs are, along with wide variation in their quality. They recommend more data be collected and studied on educational and employment outcomes so better quality-assurance standards can be developed.

“We quickly learned that while there’s some piecemeal information, there really hasn’t been this kind of landscape review before,” said Martin Kurzweil, director of the educational transformation program at Ithaka S+R, the firm that conducted the study. “That’s surprising, because there’s millions of Americans engaged in this kind of postsecondary education.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Report: When Funding's Cut, Tuition Jumps

For some years there has been disagreement over whether reductions in state and federal funding have been responsible for rises in college and university tuition rates. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, a new research study concludes that they have, at least in part.

The study, published in the Economics of Education Review, looked at the relationship between tuition and government funding levels since 1987, taking into account factors such as increases in fee revenue and state controls on tuition. It found that schools do pass along 25.7% of cutbacks to students in the form of tuition increases.

“In other words, for every $1,000 cut from per-student state and local appropriations, the average student can be expected to pay $257 more per year in tuition and fees,” explained the Inside Higher Ed report.

That’s an average over three decades; the amount shouldered by students in recent years has been even higher, about $318. Institutions with graduate programs tended to raise tuition more than schools offering only bachelor’s or associate degrees.

“The fact that this has been increasing says to me that in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there probably was a lot more fat in the budget,” said the lead researcher in the study. “And so, when states would divest, it was a lot easier for schools to cut things. Whereas now, the low-hanging fruit is diminishing. We’re having to make tougher decisions, and we’re having to pass more of these costs on to students because there’s not some obvious spending that we can cut.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Make Makerspaces Accessible

Advances in 3-D printing have lowered the cost while boosting ease of use, allowing makerspaces to crop up throughout the K-12 landscape, at libraries, and on more and more college and university campuses.

In these collaborative spaces, students, faculty, and community members can get hands-on experience in design, problem-solving, and turning concepts into physical products. All of that dovetails with calls for greater entrepreneurialism and more interdisciplinary cooperation, and for schools to teach more skills immediately useful in the modern workplace.

Any institution or group that has such a space or is considering creation of one needs to remember to design for access by individuals representing a wide range of ages, abilities, languages, and learning styles, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and contribute. Faculty and students at the College of Engineering and DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington, Seattle, have created a set of guidelines governing accessibility and universal design for makerspaces.

Friday, July 21, 2017

MS Plans to Connect Rural America

More than 23 million people in rural America, including college students, have no broadband access. Microsoft plans to change that.

The company announced an initiative to connect two million rural Americans over the next five years by using a cheap technology on the wireless spectrum known as TV white spaces to transmit broadband data. Microsoft also asked the Federal Communications Commission to keep the spectrum available and to collect data on rural broadband coverage to help policymakers and companies provide Internet access.

The initiative probably won’t produce impressive financial results, but it is politically savvy.

“[President] Trump on the campaign trail used rhetoric to speak and resonate with those voters, in these sort of left-behind economies as we talk about them,” Seth McKee, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, told National Public Radio. McKee added that building a digital infrastructure should get backing from both parties.

“They would be a first mover,” McKee said of Microsoft. “If they were the first ones to really go in this area and actually show some willingness to put some skin in the game, that could go a long way in terms of politicians taking notice and further bankrolling this sort of thing.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Tools Foil Fraud on Online Exams

When a college student takes an online exam for an online course, who’s really sitting in the test-taker’s seat—the student who enrolled or someone else?

Potential cheating has always been a concern for online college courses. New analytical tools, according to a report in EdTech magazine, are helping institutions ensure that the person who gets credit for the course actually does the work.

By analyzing how thousands of honest students fill out an examination form, researchers can determine if a dishonest student is trying to cheat or obtained access to test questions in advance.

Other schools are attempting to prevent cheating with online proctoring services. Students must take the exam from a computer with a webcam that keeps an eye on their work during the test. In case a student is tempted to substitute an impersonator, figuring the school won’t know the difference, some services verify the person’s identity with scanned photos.

On the positive side, proctoring services also enable “the university to offer students more flexible test times, an important factor for some nontraditional students,” said the report.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The BYOD Approach Comes of Age

While quite a few K-12 school districts now have 1:1 programs to provide a Chromebook or other digital device to every student for classwork, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) programs have found favor in many other districts for combining that same sort of access with lower expenditures and fewer technical hassles.

Initial concerns that students would use their devices to play games, watch cat videos, or access social media during school have been dispelled by strict use policies, detailed communication with parents and families, and efforts to instruct children on responsible behavior both online and in the classroom.

Although there is usually flexibility to allow students to use a device with which they’re most comfortable, in some districts smartphones are not among the permitted devices. The preference is for something with a screen large enough for students to write and create diagrams. If a child doesn’t have an appropriate device of their own—or doesn’t want to bring it to school—they may be given access to a district-supplied Chromebook or tablet.

“We recognize that students are living in a digital age, and BYOD helps students establish the foundations of digital citizenship,” Superintendent Robert Shaps, of Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Westchester County, NY, told the Associated Press.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Concerns about Personalized Learning

Many have jumped on the personalized-learning bandwagon because of its potential to tailor instruction to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. While the promise—and substantial funding from groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is there, the results aren’t quite livingup to the hype.

A recent RAND Corp. study of 40 K-12 schools found that customized instruction does produce gains in test scores in math and reading, but those gains were just 3% better than average scores in a more traditional school setting. The study also noted students in personalized-learning schools who started the year academically behind did slightly better than their counterparts in traditional programs.

However, there are challenges. Finding time to develop customized lessons for each student was the most significant issue for instructors, who also had trouble finding high-quality digital resources.

“There’s a growing acknowledgement of the reality of how personalized learning actually plays out,” said Benjamin Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on teacher preparation. “Even if it were a good idea, developing a personalized-learning path for every student, in a system that has to educate tens of millions of children, might not be realistic.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Foreign Students May or May Not Show Up

In a few more weeks, U.S. colleges and universities will learn which recent report is the most accurate in predicting whether international students will still enroll in American schools this fall. Some institutions’ budgets depend on the full tuition these students typically pay.

As a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education noted, three different studies drew somewhat different conclusions about the intentions of foreign students this year. While one study estimated foreign enrollment might even exceed original projections, two others saw signs of an impending drop in international students.

The uncertainty over the proposed travel ban is expected to have an impact, but The Chronicle noted some institutions “adjusted their recruitment and admissions strategies in order to head off potential declines.” As a result, these schools received a positive response from foreign students and anticipated relatively normal enrollment.

However, two groups of overseas students might be more likely to stay away from American colleges and universities. Students from India, which make up 15% of foreign enrollment in the U.S., are showing increased interest in Canadian schools and fewer are requesting information about U.S. institutions.

The other group are master’s degree students. Unlike students in bachelor or doctoral programs, “students who pursue a master’s … often are taking time out of careers to earn an advanced career,” said The Chronicle. “Delaying a year while the travel-ban dust settles may be the easiest for this group.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Public Ed Asset Used for Private Gain

At a time when the Census Bureau reports a quarter of U.S. households are without Internet access, critics contend that a federal program to shrink that gap is broken, with much of its revenues enriching nonprofits and commercial operators while many low-income and rural students are left still bereft of needed access.

The Educational Broadband Service (EBS) grants school districts and educational nonprofits free licenses allowing them to use a portion of spectrum—the range of frequencies that carry radio and the mobile Internet—to offer instructional services using low-power broadband and high-speed Internet access.

EBS traces its origins to a post-Sputnik push in the 1960s to modernize American education, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allotting a section of spectrum to encourage teaching by television. Since then, the government has given away thousands of licenses. When spectrum use officially shifted from TV to the Internet in 2004, the value of those licenses suddenly shot through the roof.

One observer told The Hechinger Report that “licensees got blindsided by a bunch of money,” with commercial operators offering cash payments running from tens of thousands of dollars up to millions to lease spectrum in a major metropolitan area. Many license-holders chose to lease up to 95% of their spectrum instead of using it for public purposes. It’s estimated that about 90% of the approximately 2,400 EBS licenses have been at least partially leased, many of them for 30 years.

The majority of EBS licensees have just one or two licenses, but over the years a handful of nonprofits have accumulated a national network of 50 or more spectrum licenses.

“Think about the amount of pure lease payments they receive for this public asset that they don’t own, which they’ve been given to steward,” said Zach Leverenz, founder of EveryoneOn, a nonprofit whose aim is to eliminate the digital divide.

While a fraction of those big nonprofits’ revenue from leased spectrum does support providing students, seniors, and other groups with broadband access, reviews of tax disclosures show that in at least one case, about three-quarters of those revenues were instead directed into savings and investments.

Leverenz has called for greater accountability and transparency for the program, but the FCC has demurred from making any changes, stating that the best course is to continue relying on “the good-faith efforts of EBS licensees.” 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Quality Matters to Online Students

Quality tops convenience for most online college students, according to a survey of 1,500 former, current, and prospective students. However, Online College Students 2017 also found that most of these students still live near the institution where they take classes.

The study noted that while students usually stay close to home, just over half requested information from three or more schools, a 23% increase over the 2016 survey. The number of students who considered only one school fell from 30% to 18%.

In addition, most students (59%) said they would change some part of their search for an online program and 23% of current and past students said they wish they had contacted more schools.

More than half of the respondents said they would take a course in person if it wasn’t available online. Nearly 60% said they traveled to campus at least once a year to meet with instructors or a study group and about three-quarters said they liked virtual office hours for teachers. About a quarter of the respondents said more engagement with classmates and instructors would improve online courses.

The study also reported that 81% of online students use their mobile device to search for a program. Nearly 70% said they use their devices to complete their studies.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Take-Home Devices vs. ‘Summer Slide’

More school districts are allowing students to take home school-issued devices over the summer break to reduce learning losses known as the “summer slide.”

There is no research yet to back the success of the practice, but educators say they hope that letting students use school laptops or tablets to extend learning through the summer will bridge the gap between haves and have-nots by providing access to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

“Summer is the most unequal time in America,” Matthew Boulay, interim CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, told NPR. “I think we tend to have this idyllic view of what childhood summers are, but the reality is that for kids living in poverty, summer can be a time of isolation and hunger.”

There are, however, observers concerned that districts need to supply parents with instructions on proper device use at home so the technology isn’t wasted on games rather than educational content and so it doesn’t pull kids away from family activities during the summer.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Enjoy the Fourth!

From all of the NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin and Westlake, as well as the staff in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and happy Fourth of July.