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, September 29, 2017

Dark Web Making Itself at Home on Campus

The dark web, a place inhabited by people looking for ways to profit from selling malware, poses a real threat to higher education. The Digital Citizens Alliance recently found nearly 14 million email addresses and passwords for faculty, staff, students, and alumni from U.S. colleges and university, 79% of them added to the dark web last year.

“Because [higher-education institutions] have large-capacity Internet connection links that served all the students and large-capacity servers that are designed for many users, they are almost always on and attackers never have to worry if a part of their infrastructure will be available for use,” Will Glass, a senior analyst for the cybersecurity firm FireEye, wrote in the Alliance study.

The first line of defense is better passwords. The report noted that too many young people use the same password for multiple services, making it easier for hackers. Colleges and universities are also installing security systems that automatically block users from downloading unapproved applications.

“We are constantly working to make sure that we incorporate layers of security, all working together to help protect the university’s data and assets,” said Timothy Cureton, IT security coordinator at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. “At the same time, this approach still allows us to have that openness that we’ve always had and want to continue to have.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Video Use on the Rise in College Classes

More college professors are turning to the video screen to complement lectures and classroom activities, according to a recent survey which tracked the use of video in education.

Conducted last May and June by Kaltura, a provider of video products and services, the survey showed that video is most commonly deployed by schools to assist distance learning programs, with 73% of institutions using video for remote classes. About 70% are showing videos during class and 66% are assigning videos to supplement other course materials, according to a report in Campus Technology.

Although 65% of respondents said they’re video-recording professors’ lectures for students to view later, they admitted not every class presentation is recorded. Most schools record less than 25% of lectures. Lack of equipment is the main reason; cameras are usually installed in only the large lecture halls, not regular classrooms. However, almost half of respondents indicated their institutions would expand recording if students demanded it.

Schools also are interested in adding more bells and whistles to their video capabilities, such as in-video quizzes, synchronized slides, search functions, and closed-captioning.

Many institutions appear to see video as a skill students need to acquire more than instructors. Just a little more than half of respondents said their schools provide video tools and training to professors, yet more than 80% said they gave students access to technologies for creating and sharing videos.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Online Courses Require More Teacher Prep

Despite high administrative hopes to the contrary, online courses are actually more time-consuming than on-campus education, at least for the academics who have to plan them. Preparing to teach an online course takes more time than readying a traditional lecture course, according to a survey of more than 2,000 educators conducted by the National Tertiary Education Union, a trade union for Australian higher-ed employees.

Analysis of the survey responses by John Kenny and Andrew Fluck, senior lecturers at the University of Tasmania in science education and IT education, respectively, found that academics said they needed 10 hours to plan a one-hour lecture for online students vs. eight hours for an hourlong in-person lecture. Similarly, preparing an online tutorial required six hours compared to five hours for an on-campus version.

Kenny and Fluck found that reviewing and updating materials for online courses also took significantly longer, as did consultation and assessment moderation for online students. The researchers saw no generational disparity in the prep time needed by older academics as compared to their younger, presumably more tech-savvy counterparts.

As Education Dive noted, many administrators have viewed online classes as freeing up more faculty time for research, but this study suggests the added prep time required for online teaching may actually have the opposite effect.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Watson Ready to Help K-5 Math Teachers

IBM’s Watson has shown it can win at the TV game show Jeopardy and provide assistance in everything from engineering and health care to basketball and wine. Now, the question-answering computer system has found a niche in education as well.

Teacher Advisor with Watson 1.0 is a tool designed to help K-5 teachers find open educational math resources. Starting with more than 1,000 open educational resources (OER) available in its database, the search engine uses natural language to make recommendations based on content the teacher requires.

“The consensus was: Start with math at the elementary level because those teachers are usually licensed as elementary teachers—they may not have strong subject-level expertise,” said Stan Litow, president emeritus of the IBM Foundation. “If you could focus in on math, that would be a moonshot.”

Teachers will be able to search particular concepts and Watson will provide targeted lessons and recommended activities. It can also adjust to grade levels, which should help teachers with students having differing math skills.

Watson’s continuously evolving artificial intelligence will also allow the tool to refine its databank through usage to provide even more applicable searches. The system can even search its content bank to pinpoint particular parts of videos that are relevant to a teacher’s search and go directly to those segments.

“When you go and research a specific area—for example, equivalent fractions—you can look at the different designs for each lesson,” said Christine Manna, a math coach for the Waterford Township School District in New Jersey. “You can look at the wording and see very quickly if it’s higher [difficulty] or more for students who struggle. That cuts down all the work for you. I think that is most appreciated.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Those with ‘Some’ College Need More Push

Some 31 million adults in the U.S. have earned enough college credits to be classified as “near-completers,” but it will take a village to help them cross the finish line to graduation, according to a new report from the Education Commission for the States.

The commission “looked at the progress of legislation and initiatives in the area,” said an article in Education Dive, and found they were overall insufficient to boost graduation rates among dropouts. Some legislative measures were well-intentioned and may have helped new enrollees—such as state policies and funded programs designed to improve the affordability of higher education—but they didn’t move the near-completers any closer to completion.

One reason is that near-completers may have been unaware of such policies and programs, or weren’t motivated to take advantage of them. The senior policy analyst who wrote the report told Education Dive that “a consistent hurdle for states is they often need a champion for near-completers, in the form of a governor or other prominent figure, to help garner interest from institutions, policymakers, and the community at large” in contacting and encouraging near-completers to return to the classroom.

The report lauded those states that had introduced initiatives aimed directly at near-completers. For example, the University of Rhode Island works with the commercial fisheries industry while in Tennessee a new “last-dollar” scholarship program assists adults who need just a little more aid to cover the rest of their school costs.

Community colleges generally do a better job of reconnecting with dropouts than four-year institutions, according to the report.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Teaching Teachers about Digital Citizenship

As electronic devices have become ubiquitous for children of almost any age, and many districts either provide devices or implement bring-your-own-device programs, schools are now being tasked with teaching digital citizenship, a catch-all phrase for safe, responsible, and appropriate use of online resources.

One major initiative in which they can participate is Google’s Be Internet Awesome campaign.

This month, Google expanded that program to educators with its free Digital Citizenship and Safety Course. The aim is to provide instructors with the basic skills needed to ensure their students remain safe and have a positive online experience.

The course comprises 12 lessons divided among six units, with topics that include savvy searching, maintaining your online reputation, setting strong passwords, evaluating the credibility of digital sources, and avoiding scams and phishing attacks. Teachers can then incorporate what they learn into their own curricula.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Questions to Ponder for Online Courses

A recent article from the digital news outlet Quartz detailed efforts by a pair of Texas A&M economics professors to update their mandatory introductory microeconomics class. The class has been moved online, a first for the university.

Students taking the class no longer have to sit through lectures because the professors have already created prerecorded lessons, an interactive video platform, and prepared all the homework and reading material. The lecturer uses a transparent whiteboard to explain concepts and discussion boards to engage students.

“Do I think [this new course] is better than 30 students and the Socratic Method, Dead Poets Society-style? Probably not,” Jon Meers, one of the professors of the course, told Quartz. “It’s still vastly superior to delivering a lecture to 300 students at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning.”

The article claimed the course will increase the quality of learning by allowing professors to interact directly with students, while also saving money for the university. However, Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for Advancement of Learning and technology blogger for Inside Higher Education, questions that conclusion.

He pointed out that creating high-quality digital materials and video lectures is hard work, requiring time and plenty of collaboration between the professor and instructional designers and media educators. He added that while the Texas A&M approach may be more effective than traditional lectures, it’s also a lot more expensive.

“Everything that I know about flipped courses tells me that they are more expensive, not less, to develop and run than traditional lecture courses,” Kim wrote.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Textbook Costs on Schools' Radars This Fall

A number of colleges and universities have kicked off the new academic year with announcements of initiatives intended to save students on their course materials expenses. Here are a few:

The board of governors for Florida’s state university system approved a $656,000 program to develop a catalog of lower-cost digital course materials. The catalog will list open educational resources (OER) available free online, along with digital versions of traditional textbooks available at a reduced price negotiated with the publishers. The catalog will be ready in time for the fall 2018 term.

Fort Hays State University, Hays, KS, launched several projects through its Open Textbook Grant Program this fall. The program, administered by the campus library with funding from the FHSU Foundation, provided grants to several faculty to create or adapt open books or supplemental materials for their courses.

The Colorado Legislature appointed a 14-member Open Educational Resources Council to recommend how public institutions could boost the use of OER. The council has also been charged with developing a repository of digital OER.

Madison Area Technical College, Eau Claire, WI, approved a new policy to standardize the adoption of textbooks for classes, with a view toward cutting costs for students. Academic programs and departments are expected to adopt books for at least three academic years, where feasible, and to submit book selections on time in order to increase the availability of rentals and used books at the campus bookstore.

The University of Missouri and Northwest Missouri State University have agreed to explore ways they could share open educational resources that their respective faculties have developed or discovered online.

The impact of programs like these, as well as other ideas for helping to lower the cost of course materials, will be discussed at the Textbook Affordability Conference Nov. 10-12 at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Paper Still Has a Place in Digital Times

Despite the proliferation of electronic devices in classrooms today, the vast majority of college students (93%) and seventh- through 12th-graders (87%) still see paper as an essential component for reaching their educational goals. While these numbers come from an understandably print-biased source—the Paper and Packaging Board’s Paper and Productive Learning: The Third Annual Back-to-School Report—they jibe with many other recent studies.

In the report, almost 95% of parents said they see their children do well on homework completed on paper, while more than 72% noted having seen their child have difficulty staying focused when working on homework on a tablet or computer. More than 88% said their child remembered assignments better when he or she wrote them down on paper.

The youngest students surveyed, seventh- and eighth-graders, agreed that they learn information best when they write it down by hand. Slightly more than half of college-age students still gave the same answer, and 81% said they always or often use paper tools to prepare for tests.

A Princeton University researcher told NPR that people who type onto a device during a lecture attempt to take their notes verbatim, while those who write their notes longhand are “forced to be more selective—because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material they were doing benefited them” in their learning.

Surprisingly, there isn’t as much research as one would expect exploring the benefits of and differences between reading on a screen and on a page. A recent paper published in SAGE Journals’ Review of Educational Research found that of 878 relevant studies published from 1992-2017, just 36 directly compared digital vs. print reading and reliably measured learning by the two methods.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Goldrick-Rab Headlines TAC 2017 Speakers

Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher-education policy and sociology at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, will deliver the keynote address at the 2017 Textbook Affordability Conference (TAC), Nov. 10-12, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

Goldrick-Rab is author of the Amazon bestseller Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream and founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, the nation’s only translational research laboratory focused on ways to make college more affordable. Her keynote speech will discuss reasons why campuses must collaborate with internal partners to address affordability.

TAC 2017 will also feature presentations from Robin Baliszewski, managing director, Pearson North America; TJ Bliss, director of development and strategy, Wiki Education; and Rick Anderson, associate dean for collections and scholarly communication, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. All TAC 2017 learning events are focused on developing models that campuses can use to create more affordable, accessible, and effective course-material options for students.

Baliszewski was president of Pearson’s North American career and professional education business from 2000-09 and served as the company’s director for people, with responsibility for recruitment, retention, development, and succession of Pearson employees. Her current responsibilities include sales and field marketing for higher-education, academic, corporate, and government markets.

Bliss is responsible for developing strategies and relationships in the philanthropy community and working with the Wiki Education board to create an organizational strategy. He guided the open education resources portfolio for the Hewlett Foundation for the last three years and served as director of assessment and accountability for the department of education in Idaho.

Anderson previously worked as a bibliographer for YBP Inc., now known as GOBI Library Solutions. In addition, he was head acquisitions librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro; director of resource acquisitions for the University of Nevada, Reno; and is a regular contributor to The Scholarly Kitchen blog.

The conference schedule and registration information is available at the TAC 2017 website. The Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center has rooms available at special conference rates until Oct. 2.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Spend More on Students, Get More Grads

Colleges and universities that spend more on students—even if they raise tuition prices—are more likely to see a bounce in enrollment and graduation rates than schools that trim their budgets and tuition rates.

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research appears to upend the conventional wisdom that reducing tuition would attract higher enrollment and also help students finish their studies faster. At least for public schools, according to a MarketWatch article about the study, the numbers are different.

“If your goal is to graduate more students, spending increases work better per-dollar than tuition cuts at accomplishing that goal,” noted David Deming, who was among the researchers in the study. Deming is a professor of public policy, education, and economics at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The study found that, from 1990-2013, enrollment and graduation rates rose with each 10% jump in a public institution’s spending. Schools that raised tuition did not see any effect on those rates.

The explanation, according to the MarketWatch article, is that institutions that cut back on their budgets—and were unwilling to increase tuition—often covered the financial gap by eliminating class sections. The end result was that more students were closed out of courses they needed to complete for graduation.

Monday, September 4, 2017

New 3-D Printer Does Full-Color

XYZprinting Inc. is rolling out an advance in 3-D printing: the da Vinci Color, which turns out full-color 3-D objects using a proprietary inkjet process during the build. Available now for preorder, schools can get a 10% education discount off the pricetag.

The company also offers K-12 Steam, a collection of 3-D project curricula that can be incorporated into the classroom.

Happy Labor Day

The entire NACS Inc. staff hopes you have a safe and happy Labor Day.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Amazon Sends Alexa to College

Amazon is working to make its Echo smart speakers part of the educational experience for students, urging colleges and universities to experiment with the device and add it to their curricula.

The company has already given 1,600 Echo Dots to engineering students at Arizona State University, Tempe, to gain experience in voice technology. It created the Amazon Alexa Fund Fellowship to provide students funding to develop courses that utilize the device, plus set up a multimillion-dollar research competition called the Alexa Prize for developing new ways to use conversational artificial intelligence.

“Amazon’s strategy is much more about establishing Alexa and the mechanisms and the way that people interact with the virtual world, almost becoming the front end of the next generation of Internet access,” said Phil Hill, ed-tech consultant and blogger for e-Literate. “They’re looking to say, ‘People won’t be doing this much on the browsers anymore, they’re going to be interacting with natural language and voice, and we want that to go through us.’”

Utah State University, Logan, started using the device without any prompting from Amazon, installing an Echo Dot in a classroom for a visually impaired instructor, who uses it to turn on projectors and lower screens with voice commands. At Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI, an instructor is using Alexa to expand the vocabulary of students in his computing and information systems courses.

Of course, not everyone is impressed. A professor of computer science at Rice University, Houston, views Alexa as more of a gimmick. There are also privacy concerns since the device listens constantly for a trigger word when activated.

“It raises the question, OK, you have to say, ‘Alexa, tell me this,’” Hill said. “That doesn’t mean the device is not listening at all times. It just means it uses the Alexa keyword to trigger a command. Where does that information go? Does Amazon store it? Does it get thrown away?”