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, March 30, 2018

Limitations to Predictive Analytics

Colleges and universities are using predictive analytics, such as grades, test scores, and attendance, as a tool to help students succeed. Austin Peay State University, Nashville, TN, was a pioneer in predictive analytics, developing a system called Degree Compass to guide students to courses they should take to satisfy degree requirements.

After initial success, the university discovered limits to what the technology could provide.

“It is simply a tool that’s available for anyone to use,” said Loretta Griffy, math professor and associate provost for student success at Austin Peay, who currently oversees the Degree Compass program. “We have a decentralized faculty advising model, which means we have 385 academic advisors. They each have their own individual styles and how they interact with students and we have a variety of advising tools that they can use. This is just one of them.”

In 2013, Degree Compass was acquired by the software firm Desire2Learn, which stopped allowing students to see grade projections to avoid discouragement. The firm also found that institutions weren’t enamored with the student-directed degree-planning tool and that it was a challenge to integrate Degree Compass with a school’s course catalog and the student information system.

“Sometimes we really hit the mark and nail it early, and get it to the point where something is cultured in our organization by the time the market is ready for it,” said Kenneth Chapman, vice president of market research and strategy at D2L. “I wouldn’t call Degree Compass one of the applications that we saw as hitting the mark.”

Degree Compass is something of a Catch-22, according to Griffy. The algorithms the tool uses need a student’s prior grade history to accurately recommend courses and majors, but students can’t gain much from the information until they have attended classes for a semester or two. By that time, they may have already decided their academic path. Besides, paper degree-planning charts can be just as useful.

“But it’s not fancy,” Griffy said. “You print it and walk around with it. It’s very simple.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Budget Bill Boosts Open Textbooks

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law March 23 sets aside $5 million for the Open Textbook Pilot, a program intended to underwrite development and expansion of open educational resources (OER) for higher education. The aim is to trim the cost of course materials for students without diminishing their learning.

While the omnibus bill doesn’t spell out exactly how the Department of Education should distribute the funds, Washington Monthly said it will most likely use the proposed Affordable College Textbook Act (ACTA) as a guideline. The act, which has been introduced in the House and Senate multiple times, most recently in September 2017, calls for establishing a competitive grant program to create or adapt open textbooks.

ACTA also supports assistance for faculty in finding and reviewing open materials, improving access to OER (especially for students with disabilities), assessing OER to ascertain actual cost savings and academic outcomes, and fostering partnerships among higher education institutions and other groups.

ACTA also “highlights several additional considerations for evaluating proposed projects and selecting grantees, including evaluating an institution’s demonstrated capacity to create high-quality resources, focusing on high-enrollment courses at the institution, and making a clear plan for marketing and distributing open textbooks to faculty and students,” Washington Monthly noted.

There’s no timeline for implementation, but $5 million isn’t a lot of money for a national program.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Calculus Gets Gamified at Texas A&M

With so many students being avid gamers, providing coursework within video games offers a chance to make learning more relevant and show how the concepts being studied can be applied outside the classroom.

To that end, Texas A&M University, College Station, gave researchers a $100,000 grant to commercialize 3-D video games in calculus and art history/appreciation as supplements to standard coursework. The games are offered by Triseum LLC, a company that grew from the Texas A&M Department of Visualization’s Learning Interactive Visualization Experience (LIVE) Lab. Triseum’s CEO is also founder and director of the LIVE Lab and an assistant professor teaching game design and development at the university.

In Variant: Limits, players work to save a fictional planet from imminent destruction by assisting the game’s protagonist in solving a series of increasingly complex calculus problems. Prompts within the game allow students to refresh themselves on theory or firm up the concepts involved.

The one-month, one-credit elective isn’t a replacement for a normal calculus course, but is instead intended to keep students motivated and engaged with the subject to boost retention. Of those who voluntarily took the course last year, about 72% said it increased their knowledge. When a high-school teacher in Milan, Italy, assigned Variant as homework for her calculus class, she saw the pass rate on her final exam rise from 80% the previous year to 100%, with grades overall notching up by 10%.

“Much of the content in the game was new for them, yet I didn’t have to push them to get through it,” she wrote in a blog post. “They wanted to apply what they were learning throughout the game so they could see what would happen next.”

Triseum’s ARTé: Mecenas game positions players as a member of the Medici family in Renaissance Italy to discover how local and international economic policies and negotiations influenced art patronage and the creation of artistic masterworks.

A mathematician who helped develop Variant said the games could be expanded into a suite of games to cover their subjects more comprehensively.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Louisiana Finds Way to Deliver Good OER

While open educational resources (OER) are often touted as an important step in keeping the cost of course materials in line, finding quality materials can be a problem, especially for K-12 instruction. Teachers surfing the web for individual lesson plans is not really an ideal way to deliver excellent content.

“There’s more bad OER out there than good; that’s a fact,” Rebecca Kockler, assistant superintendent of academic instruction for Louisiana, said during a panel discussion at the recent SXSWedu conference. “We need to find the quality stuff and elevate it for everyone.”

The Louisiana Department of Education has taken a positive step in the right direction by making integrated curriculum available on its website. The content is aligned with the state’s core standards and adaptable to the needs of individual students, providing teachers with more time to just teach.

The Louisiana approach also couples professional development for teachers with the sharing of best practices and curricula, and it’s paying dividends. A 2017 study found record growth in the high-school graduation rate and the rate of college attendance. In addition, the research noted that state fourth-graders had the highest learning gains in the nation in a national reading assessment test in 2015.

“Using OER wasn’t our goal,” Kockler said. “Quality was our goal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Colleges Pave Paths to Employment

Critics pointing to student debt and graduates with no careers are forcing colleges and universities to defend the value of their degrees. Some are responding with new programs intended to ensure more grads land well-paying positions.

City Colleges of Chicago just announced a new partnership with PepsiCo to reserve up to 40 technician and mechanic jobs in transportation, distribution, and manufacturing for its students. Those enrolled in degree or certificate programs will also receive workplace readiness training from PepsiCo and will be able to participate in the company’s prep sessions for its screening process.

PepsiCo also committed to hosting a series of hiring events specifically for City Colleges students and local residents. The partnership creates a pipeline to funnel City Colleges grads into high-skill work needed by the company.

DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, unveiled the DePauw Gold Commitment, guaranteeing each graduate “a successful launch” into the working world. Those that don’t have a job or grad school placement (or aren’t pursuing “a path of their choosing”) within six months of graduation can come back for a semester of additional free tuition. DePauw is also partnering with companies to provide six-month entry-level positions to give these students a leg up on gaining job experience.

In order to secure the Gold Commitment, incoming DePauw students signing up for the program as freshmen “will be expected to begin preparing for life after college in their first semester, participate fully in all the opportunities available to them, graduate within four years, and conduct themselves as good citizens during their college experience.”

Monday, March 19, 2018

Teachers Remain Wary of Social Media

Many grade- and high-school teachers remain hesitant to use social media as a learning tool. Just 16% of the 1,000 K-12 teachers who responded to a survey from the University of Phoenix said they use social media in the classroom, while 56% said they don’t use it at all and have no plans to start.

Most teachers in the survey (83%) worry about conflicts from social media interaction and 35% said they had experienced issues with either students or their parents through social media. At the same time, some see the classroom as the right place to discuss social media.

“In the classroom is the perfect opportunity to talk about how we behave, what is ethical inside and outside our classroom, and what that entails,” said Pam Roggeman, academic dean at the institution’s College of Education. “Its fun and it’s interesting, but it brings with it a large responsibility.”

The survey also found that 63% of teachers said they use technology every day and another 25% use it at least once a week. At the same time, about a quarter of the teachers admitted being at least somewhat intimidated by their students’ technology knowledge.

“That surprised me,” Roggeman said. “If there was ever technology in my classroom I didn’t understand, I’d ask students for help and invariably five hands would go up. One of teachers’ greatest classroom resources is their students.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Policy Choices Limiting Promise Programs

Legislative policies may impact states offering free tuition for two-year institutions. Research that looked at 20 existing College Promise programs in 18 states found that some of their requirements could make it harder for some students to participate.

“As debates around Promise programs continue, state legislators serious about spurring enrollment, lowering debt, and addressing inequities in our higher-education system should ensure that proposed Promise programs provide both a clear message and a clear benefit to those who need it most,” wrote Jen Mishory, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, in The Future of Statewide College Promise Programs: A State Guideto Free College.

The report noted that half the programs studied required students to attend school full time, eliminating part-time students who are more likely to be on their own financially and in need of the additional help to attend. Merit-based requirements and limitations on the degrees or certificates covered by the free-tuition programs can also reduce the number of eligible students.

Using federal Pell Grant dollars or other grants to cover the cost of tuition before the Promise program kicks in is another roadblock for students. The report noted that if Promise dollars went to tuition, lower-income students would then be able to use the grant money on some of the other costs of higher education, such as housing transportation, and books.

At least in their initial stages, few states have recharged their higher-education investments enough to make significant progress toward a more universal benefit—and each state faces their own unique hurdles to getting there, some more challenging than others,” Mishory wrote. “Without that investment, as states launch programs with rationing policies to contain program costs, the choices they make will have very different impacts on who benefits, how well it measures up against the goals of spurring enrollment and lowering debt, and how their program impacts the progress their state makes in closing gaps in enrollment and attainment rates by race and income.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

New Guide Tries to Transform Transfers

Four-fifths of the students who first enroll in community colleges intend to move on to a four-year school to obtain a bachelor’s degree, yet just 32% make that transfer within six years and even fewer graduate. A new guide aims to help improve that rate.

The Columbia University Community College Research Center, working with the Aspen Institute and other research organizations, studied institutions with much higher rates of transfer and completion. “These colleges clearly made transfers a priority. They made transferring a default plan for every student, rather than optional,” researcher John Fink said in an Education Dive report.

The center’s guide identifies a number of actions institutions can take to assist transfer students. First, two- and four-year schools must communicate with each other about degree requirements so that curriculum can be designed to enable students to step up to a university without taking extra classes. As it is, too many community college students discover the course credits they earned won’t transfer.

Community colleges must also ensure students understand which courses they need to take in order to move on to a four-year school. It doesn’t always occur to students to find out degree requirements at their destination school before enrolling in community college. That means community colleges need to establish strong advising programs to guide students from the get-go, starting with determining their educational goals in order to clear a path to graduation.

Schools should also rethink their remedial classes. Students required to take these classes, which usually don’t count toward a degree, are more likely to drop out in frustration. Low-income students who may be among the first in their families to attend college may also need additional help in understanding the institution’s processes and how to apply for transfer.

Monday, March 12, 2018

CA Proposes Online College for Workers

The California Community Colleges system includes 114 colleges in 72 districts and serves more than two million students. Even that may not be enough to both train incoming students for careers and help existing workers transition to new roles as the U.S. job landscape undergoes sweeping change. In his State of the State address earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown estimated there are 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 who are in the workforce but lack a postsecondary degree or certificate.

To help those workers, the CCC system’s chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, wants to develop a new online community college to deliver badly needed courses. Brown asked the legislature to approve $100 million in startup funds for the project, along with $20 million in ongoing annual costs. If the money is approved, the new college would begin enrolling students for fall 2019.

“These are individuals who cannot drop everything they’re doing to come to our colleges and spend two or three years getting a degree or credential,” Oakley told NPR. “They need short-term job skills in order to survive.”

The curriculum would be designed in partnership with employers and labor unions, with a focus on high-demand industries such as construction, health care, child care, and information technology. “We would give them a short burst of job skills that employers would honor,” Oakley explained. “This is not something that our community colleges currently focus on.”

Learning would be self-paced and students would be eligible for state financial aid. There might even be an option to pay a flat fee for unlimited course access. Federal financial aid would only become available when and if the college received accreditation.

While Brown stated the new online college would not compete with existing schools in the state or their programs, Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the 11,000-member Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said his organization would rather some or all of the project’s funding go toward offering more courses through the system’s existing Online Education Initiative, launched in 2013.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New E-Textbooks Take Aim at Affordability

Another new entrant to textbook publishing hopes to make course materials more affordable by focusing on an online platform. Lead Winds, of Newnan, GA, provides device-agnostic online, chapter-by-chapter access to its textbook, an audiobook version of the title, and study notes for each chapter, as well as video tutorials and videos of students sharing tips on the content.

The cost is $35 per student, although if an institution opts for inclusive access as part of tuition, that price tag can be even lower. The company has two titles ready for the summer and fall 2018 terms, The Exceptional Writer (English composition) and The Exceptional Speaker (public speaking), with more in the pipeline for release in 2019.

“This product is designed to meet students’ needs academically and financially,” says co-founder Brent Mayes. “It fits visual, aural, verbal, logical, and solitary learning styles. And it is accessible on all devices, so the materials travel with the students and are present when needed.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Publishers Share Views in CAMEX Panel

Executives from six of the largest college textbook publishers offered their thoughts in a panel discussion at NACS’ Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) 2018 in Dallas, TX.

Ashley Gordon, a digital content strategist and founder of Mockingbird Publishing, moderated the discussion, sponsored by Cengage.

On the future of academics and course materials:

“There will be continued movement to digital,” said Scott Virkler, chief product officer, McGraw-Hill Education, “and pressure on schools to show outcomes.”

“I believe print will be around for some time to come. For a lot of students, that still makes a lot of sense,” said Mike Wright, vice president and director of sales, W.W. Norton & Co.

“The student consumer will have more choice” but will expect materials to directly contribute to their personal and professional success, said Tim Stookesberry, senior vice president, education, Wiley.

On ways publishers can work with campus bookstores to build stronger relationships with faculty:

“Stores have so much knowledge about students, you could help faculty make the best decision about what materials to adopt” and which format options are available, said Cheryl Costantini, vice president, content strategy, Cengage.

“Help faculty in understanding affordability. Faculty don’t care where students get materials and sometimes think students are getting a better deal,” said Bill Franck, senior vice president of sales, nursing and allied health, Elsevier-Health Sciences.

On ways to sustain inclusive access (programs that provide digital materials as part of a course fee):

“Be willing to change and adapt,” said Nik Osborne, senior vice president, strategy and business, Pearson. “We’re looking for opportunities to grow. By starting early together we can build out roles for each to play.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

Strategies to Bridge the K-3 ‘Device Gap’

Just over two-thirds of K-3 teachers reported that on at least one occasion they’d refrained from assigning homework because they didn’t think all their students had access to the technology or digital media needed to complete the work. That percentage was even higher for schools serving a greater number of low-income students.

In the same online survey of educators and parents, conducted last year by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning, 40% of parents said that challenges with home technology access hampered their children’s ability to stay on pace with their peers.

Based on the survey and in-person conversations with parents, the foundation suggested five strategies for how instructors can help bridge the school/home “device gap”:

1. Inform parents about how their children are using technology and which digital media are being used in the classroom.

2. Recommend specific programs and apps students can use at home to complement what’s being used at school. Since poor Internet service and data limits are among the most common technology hurdles at home, consider programs that don’t require Wi-Fi or cell service to run after being downloaded.

3. Host a parent-teacher learning exchange in your school or across your district to explain how appropriate content is chosen. While teachers aren’t expected to have every answer on devices and apps, the survey and discussions indicated parents do view them as trusted partners for advice on technology use.

4. Rather than focusing solely on scary messages about the potential harmful effects of device use on young children, take a balanced approach that promotes how to “learn and live well” in a world where technology and connectedness are ever more ubiquitous.

5. Connect parents to their local library as a source for increasing their access to technology and further mentoring on appropriate use for young children.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Attracting New Students with E-Sports

Video gaming is no longer just a favorite pastime for college students, it’s become a varsity sport because it drives enrollment, creates campus enthusiasm, is co-ed, and doesn’t cost much to launch.

“It’s on the cutting edge, if not already a little bit beyond that, of new opportunities to compete,” said Dave Gantt, vice president for athletics at the University of Providence, Great Falls, MN. “All of our admissions counselors are armed with the knowledge that we have this sport, and it has been something of interest at every one of their stops.”

E-sports have grown from a single team to more than 60 schools competing, with hundreds more looking into offering it. Gant’s institution is retrofitting its mailroom and bookstore in the student union for e-sport gamers, who will begin play in the fall.

Colleges are creating e-sports arenas in old computer labs and other rooms that were going unused. The competitions are often streamed live and have students providing play-by-play commentary, just like an NCAA football or basketball game.

The e-sports program at University of California, Irvine, is funded by university research into the learning applications of gaming. UC Irvine also offers summer camps for female gamers and underrepresented young people, and recently helped to launch a regional high school league.

“The research out there shows that women and men can compete equally, given equal access,” said Mark Deppe, acting director of e-sports at UC Irvine. “But online cultures can be toxic—there can be in-game harassment and bullying—and we think we can be an influence against that.”