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, October 30, 2017

Making MOOCs Massive Again

Over the last five years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have become on-demand sessions that allow participants to learn at their own pace. Changes were also made that allowed providers to monetize the process by charging for certification.

While a poll from Class Central, a MOOC discovery platform, found that 64% of respondents said they preferred the changes, there was also a cost. MOOCs are no longer attracting large numbers of students, and the learners taking the classes aren’t interacting on discussion forums.

“These days, most MOOC providers let learners start courses whenever they like (or on a biweekly or monthly basis as Coursera does),” Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central, wrote in a column for EdSurge. “As a result, the forums are far less vibrant and informative than they were in the early days.”

To find a happy medium, Shah is proposing a MOOC semester offering a limited catalog of instructor-led courses with a fixed schedule and soft deadlines. The selected MOOCs would also offer free certificates to students who meet course requirements by a certain time.

“MOOC providers abandoned free certificates because they were looking for a sustainable business model,” he said. “Reintroducing them could reignite some of the enthusiasm MOOCs initially generated. The potential loss in revenue from free certificates would be offset by the marketing benefits of reaching more users.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

Students Need Skills, Not Standardized Tests

A new survey by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International found that the American public wants schools to teach their children career skills and to limit standardized testing. A majority of Americans also oppose using public funds to send students to private schools.

According to the 2017 Poll of the Public’s AttitudeToward the Public Schools, 82% of respondents support job or career skill classes, even if it means spending less time on traditional academics. More than 85% said schools should offer certificate or licensing programs that help students land jobs after graduation, while 82% said technology and engineering classes should be part of the curriculum.

However, just 42% said standardized testing was important and 52% oppose school voucher programs. That figure rises to 61% when religious schools are mentioned.

“These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates—from supporting vouchers to emphasizing high-stakes tests—are out of step with parents’ main concerns,” said Joshua P. Starr, CEO of PDK International, which has conducted the survey since 1969. “They want their children prepared for life and career after they complete high school.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

CA Community Colleges Awash in Aid

In California’s speed to ensure low-income students could afford at least a year of higher education, some community colleges have ended up with surplus assistance funds.

A new state measure just signed into law this month provides funding for students’ first year of studies at California community colleges. The bill was passed in response to former President Barack Obama’s call for community colleges to offer two free years of education under a proposed “America College Promise” program.

However, according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune, a number of community colleges started their own Promise programs before the state did. As a result, some have more money to support first-year students than they need.

The San Diego Community College District, for example, launched a pilot program in 2016 and raised $300,000 to pay for more than 200 area students to attend at no cost. The district had planned to raise another $700,000 for the program this year. Palomar College secured $1.5 million in donations for its Promise program. Other colleges have similar amounts to set aside to aid students and are now trying to figure out how the money should be used in view of the new law, especially since approximately 60% of California’s community-college students already qualify for tuition-fee waives due to their low income.

Some schools are considering using their Promise funds to help students with textbooks or other costs. Because the new state law is aimed at helping first-year students only, some colleges said they may earmark their Promise money to assist second-year students or dropouts who want to return.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Digital Diplomas? There's an App for That

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, launched a pilot program in the summer that gave graduates the option to receive their diplomas on their smartphone through an app, along with the traditional paper version. The Blockcerts Wallet app uses blockchain technology to provide students easy access to their diploma that is verifiable and tamperproof.

“From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be curators of their own credentials,” said Mary Callahan, MIT registrar and senior associate dean. “This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and to be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.”

Once students download the app, a set of unique numerical identifiers are created that is used in the digital diploma to prove ownership. The technology allows students to share their diploma, which can be immediately verified as authentic, for free with employers or schools.

“It really is transformative. And it could be as big as the web because it affects every sector,” said Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine, which worked with MIT on the technology. “It’s not just academic records. It’s being able to passively know that digital things are true. That creates a whole new reality across every sector.”

Friday, October 20, 2017

Good Start for Tennessee Promise

While free-tuition programs have their critics, the Tennessee Promise appears to be working. Of more than 13,000 of the state’s eligible students who enrolled in the first Promise program in 2015, nearly 60% are still in college. Only 40% of their non-Promise peers remain in school.

After two years, 56% of the original class of Promise Students are still enrolled in community college and 14.5% have earned a degree or certificate. Over the same period, 30.5% of non-Promise students were still enrolled and just 5% had earned a degree or certificate.

“These numbers are the first evidence that Tennessee Promise is doing exactly what Gov. [Bill] Haslam and the General Assembly designed: getting more students into college, including students who might not otherwise be able to attend, and helping them succeed once they get there,” said Flora Tydings, chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents.

To qualify, Tennessee high school seniors must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, enroll in college the fall semester after their graduation, perform eight hours of community service, register for at least 12 credit hours per semester, and maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average. The Tennessee Promise also helps mentor students through the college application and enrollment processes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Students Need Slower Pace for Digital Reads

A number of recent surveys indicated that college students would rather read print course materials, not digital. A new study which delved more deeply into reading comprehension both confirmed and contradicted those earlier surveys.

In a report for Business Insider, researchers Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer said they first asked students which medium they preferred, then had the students read two items—one in print, the other online. Afterward, students had to identify the main ideas in the texts and describe key points. At the end, students were asked to rate their comprehension of the materials.

Alexander and Singer said students “overwhelmingly” claimed to prefer reading digital materials. Students did finish reading their digital assignment sooner than the printed one. They also said their comprehension of the online material was “better” than print. That didn’t hold up under closer scrutiny, though.

In analyzing students’ answers about the reading content, the researchers found their understanding of the main points was about the same for either medium. When it came to recalling more detailed information, however, students’ comprehension improved considerably with the printed materials in comparison to the digital.

But there was an interesting side note: Some students performed equally well regardless of the medium. It turns out this group took their time in reading online, allowing them to absorb the information.

That led Alexander and Singer to recommend that instructors keep educational goals in mind when choosing formats for course materials. If students are expected to retain more detailed concepts, then instructors should stick with printed works or encourage students to slow down their screen reading.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Faculty Envision EdTech’s Future Reality

 More than 80% of respondents in Campus Technology’s second annual Teaching with Technology Survey of higher-ed faculty said that virtual-, augmented-, and mixed-reality technologies will have the most impact on education over the next decade, ahead of video, adaptive learning, and even mobile devices.

That impact is already being felt. A report on the online higher-ed market by technology research and advisory firm Technavio noted that the growing popularity of augmented and virtual reality is spilling over into online education, with instructors incorporating these emerging visual technologies to boost the interactivity of the online learning experience.

Of course, awareness and enthusiasm may play out differently. In the Campus Technology survey, faculty ranked mobile devices and apps No. 2 on their list of the top 10 technologies for the next 10 years, but also listed mobile devices in second place in their tally of tech they wish they didn’t have to deal with in the classroom.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Higher Ed Focused on Social Media

Conventional wisdom suggests that Fortune 500 firms are on the cutting edge of social-media usage while higher education lags behind. In fact, higher-ed executives are 10% more likely to be using social media compared to their corporate counterparts, according to a report from the social-media monitoring firm Hootsuite.

The Social Campus Report: 8 Opportunities for Higher Edin 2018 noted that student use of technology has institutions increasing their focus on social media to keep pace. It also found that 63% of campus administrators say they believe that social media is important to strategic planning and fulfilling their institution’s mission.

Students are more likely to use social media regularly, making it an easier and more cost-efficient way to communicate with them. The report also found that many administrators view a robust social-media presence as a way to gain an advantage over other colleges and universities.

“There’s this kind of vacuum of knowledge on social and how it has impacted education,” said Phil Chatterton, industry principal for higher education at Hootsuite. “This has changed the way people communicate and education is a big part of that.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Students Need Job Skills Both Hard and Soft

In the view of one university president, higher-education institutions need to incorporate more soft skills into formal instruction in order to better prepare well-rounded students for the work world after graduation.

“Critical thinking, complex problem solving, empathy, creativity, and communication skills are all necessary in today’s work environment,” Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University, said in an email exchange with Inside Higher Education. “This is why more and more schools are finding creative ways to integrate the arts and sciences with professional and technical skills. Employers are point-blank telling us they need college graduates who have mastered soft skills in addition to the hard, industry-specific technical skills.”

Larson said college classes should give students more practical experience—through internships, immersion classes with corporations, community service, or other means—and introduce them to technologies relevant in their chosen fields, but “it all begins with an approach that combines left-brain and right-brain thinking.”

She noted that Bentley and other universities offer programs designed to enable students to major in both business/technical fields and liberal-arts studies, which helps them develop analytical and communication skills.

Getting first-year students involved in campus career services right away, rather than waiting until their senior year when they’re starting to apply for jobs, is also important, she stressed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

K-12 Teachers Still Divided on Edtech Use

While more k-12 instructors are employing education technology on a daily basis in their classrooms—63% this year, a bump up from 55% last year—a quarter of them still report being intimidated by their students’ use and knowledge of edtech, according to an annual survey from the College of Education at the University of Phoenix.

Just over a third of the more than 1,000 respondents blamed inadequate funding for not making greater use of edtech, with 23% citing concerns that technology is too distracting. Even though two-thirds acknowledged that using classroom tech helps their students remain more engaged, more than 70% said that use of personal devices is a distraction in group settings, a rise from 65% in the 2016 survey.

When it comes to their own edtech skills, 40% of K-12 teachers said they'd give themselves a grade of "C" or failing, while only 16% gave themselves an "A."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tech Firms Should Play Part in Higher Ed

Americans want tech companies to take a bigger role in improving education in the United States, according to a survey from the digital news company OZY. The study found nearly 70% of 3,350 randomly selected adults who took the survey would support the federal government providing free postsecondary education and 57% said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to cover the costs.

Three-quarters agreed with the statement that there are benefits beyond a degree to traditional on-campus learning, while 23% said the education from online programs is just as good as heading off to college. The poll was equally split on the purpose of higher education as 49% said it teaches people how to think and the same amount saying it prepares students for a job.

More than half of respondents said people will need degrees in science and technology to successfully compete in the job market and 48% said that computer science and engineering majors were best prepared for the workforce. A tangible skill or trade was rated as the most valuable feature of a post-high school education by 23% of the participants, while 17% pointed to professional networking and connections.

The study also noted that tech companies could improve high schools by creating more apprenticeship programs (57%) and providing more technology resources (50%). In addition, more than 90% said that teachers can’t be replaced by robots in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Small Changes Aid Students of All Abilities

Simple modifications in classroom teaching practices could greatly assist college students with disabilities and help out the rest of the class to boot, in the view of an Assumption College professor.

In a guest column for The Chronicle of Higher Education, James M. Lang recounted how his institution invited faculty to hear a panel of students discuss their various disabilities and what they needed in the way of accommodation to succeed in their coursework.

For the most part, the students asked for easy changes that would add little to no time or cost to an instructor’s lecture preparation and wouldn’t disrupt class proceedings. Among the requested alterations were: writing larger and more legibly on whiteboards with black markers (not colors); creating PowerPoint slides with fewer words in bigger type; and providing PowerPoints or other materials before or after class so students can review them on their own.

“In example after example, [the students] described teaching practices that would have universal benefit in the classroom and that could be adopted without putting a spotlight on students with disabilities,” Lang noted. “So if I take a little more time and effort to make my writing large, legible, and organized on the whiteboard, I am going to help the student with visual impairments—but I’m also going to help everyone in the room take better notes on our discussion.”

Lang suggested that faculty “should take the diversity of learners into consideration up front as we design our courses. And if we do, we will need to make fewer accommodations at the request of specific students, because inclusive design practices help all learners succeed.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Closing In on 100% Classroom Connectivity

Huge gains have been made in classroom connectivity, but work still remains to be done, according to the 2017 State of the States report from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit headquartered in San Francisco that serves as an advocate and consultant for states and school districts to obtain high-speed Internet access for all classrooms.

In 2013, 40 million students were unable to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s 100 kilobits-per-second minimum connectivity goal for digital learning. As of this year, that number has been reduced to 6.5 million students, with 748 districts still requiring upgrades to effectively use the Internet in their classrooms. EducationSuperHighway’s goal is to have every student in the country connected by 2020.

Responding to a Funds For Learning survey, almost 80% of school districts and libraries credited the federal E-rate program for their faster Internet connections. E-rate is shorthand for the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co. under direction of the FCC. The largest federally funded education program, it gives discounts to help schools and libraries secure affordable and safe telecommunications and Internet access.

In addition to E-rate, EducationSuperHighway noted that 46 state governors are supporting legislation to improve affordability, increase fiber-optic connections, and get Wi-Fi into every classroom.

“Access to high-speed Internet is no longer considered a luxury but a basic necessity for 21st-century learning,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf stated in the report.