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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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Debt Situation More Complex Than Money

Some 39% of college students who have taken out loans to finance their education don’t want to assume any more debt and would think about dropping out first, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney.

More than half of the students answering the survey owed at least $20,000. But when questioned more closely why they see leaving school as an option, it turns out the size of the loan debt isn’t the only—or even most critical—factor.

Of the student respondents with loans, 51% admitted to having a difficult time juggling their studies with a job and 20% were grappling to accommodate family-related responsibilities. More than a quarter were pondering whether to drop out after realizing their intended field paid relatively low and 10% didn’t even expect to work in the major they were studying.

Dissatisfaction with the college or university they were attending also played a role in considering whether to continue or drop out.

Not all of the respondents with student loans, though, were having trouble. More than a third viewed their loans as a worthwhile investment and estimated they’d earn at least $30,000 more annually once they attain their degree.

Friday, May 25, 2018

New Ed Models Require New Staffing Models

New K-12 educational approaches that encourage personalized and blended learning—the latter replacing a portion of traditional face-to-face instruction with web-based learning—are running afoul of the typical one-teacher-one-classroom structure. The new models pile additional tasks onto teachers already burdened by an overwhelming workload, in most cases handled solo.

Effectively implementing these new learning strategies will require adopting equally new staffing strategies, according to a new report, Innovative Staffing to Personalize Learning, compiled by the Clayton Christensen Institute and Public Impact.

The report’s authors examined how eight district, private, and charter schools and school networks used a variety of new arrangements to better support personalized and blended learning. They identified a number of elements key to the success of these endeavors:

• New roles for educators, including teacher-leaders heading small instructional teams, collaborative teams of teachers, support staff who tutored or mentored students to increase one-on-one or small-group interaction, and teachers in training who taught as part of their on-the-job learning.
• Intensive collaboration on small teaching teams to develop instructional skills faster and gain broader insights into the needs of individual students.
• Intensive coaching that involved weekly or even daily observation and feedback.
• Paid fellowships and residencies that allowed schools to establish their own pipeline of future instructors.

Increasing teachers’ pay was often needed to gain buy-in for their taking on added work and new responsibilities. Some schools stretched their student-to-teacher ratios to make teachers eligible for higher pay, while others brought lower-paid support staffers, trainee teachers, and volunteer tutors into the classroom to shoulder some of the duties.

“The organizational inertia of traditional staffing arrangements may take some time to change,” the report noted. “But as schools like these produce strong results and then refine and codify their practices, more schools across the country will have the will and the means to follow in their footsteps.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Poll Response Mixed on Higher Ed

Despite concerns over whether postsecondary schools can prepare graduates for jobs in the real world, the public still feels there is value in pursuing higher education. Sort of.

In a new poll from the research group New America, a majority of respondents agreed “a college degree leads to better job opportunities than a high-school diploma,” according to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. A large percentage (78% of respondents who said they were Republicans and 84% of those who voted Democrat) also were “comfortable” with tax money being used to fund colleges and universities.

However, although the respondents had a more favorable view of community colleges in general as well as the institutions in their local vicinity, they weren’t so sure about other schools in the higher-ed universe. Just 25% of respondents were satisfied with the current state of higher education.

The biggest reason was cost. Thirty-eight percent of respondents viewed college attendance overall as too costly, yet 81% thought community colleges were “worth the cost.” The findings suggest that the public perceives community-college coursework as more directly tied to job requirements than four-year institutions.

Only 12% indicated a college education should be free for all students.

Monday, May 21, 2018

MIT Students Hack Disability Solutions

According to the World Health Association, more than a billion people worldwide need one or more assistive devices to address physical, communication, or other disabilities. However, about 90% of them lack access to such technologies.

To raise awareness of the situation, jump-start innovation, and encourage students to consider careers developing assistive devices, the Assistive Technology Hackathon (ATHack) brings together teams of MIT students every year to brainstorm, design, and create solutions for problems faced by specific disabled “clients” from the Boston/Cambridge community.

The event is interdisciplinary and open to anyone. ATHack coordinators asemble teams of students with complementary skills, interests, and academic backgrounds. Clients often act as co-designers and meet with their teams at a dinner a couple weeks ahead of the hackathon to lay out the particular problem they need solved.

On the day of the event, the teams have 11 hours to produce their solution, from start to finish. It’s understood by all involved that the result may not be an immediately usable prototype, but development can continue beyond the event with some help and resources from the organizers.

Of this year’s 15 projects, eight or nine were completed by the deadline. Among the winners selected were a portable seat to allow someone to use a shower while traveling and an armband that vibrates to alert a hearing-impaired wearer when someone rings their doorbell.

More than 300 participants have collaborated on 70-plus projects since ATHack was launched five years ago. Its organizers hope to post a compilation database of hackathon projects within the next few months.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Banning Electronics Works in One OSU Class

All first-year students at The Ohio State University, Columbus, are receiving iPad Pros this fall as part of an initiative between the institution and Apple to enhance the learning experience. The devices are welcomed across campus, except for an economics course taught by Trevor Logan.

Logan banned all electronics from his courses during the spring semester. Instead of complaints, he saw student performance on the midterm exam improve significantly.

The students even seemed to like the policy, telling Logan the ban helped them maintain their focus in class and take better notes. They also said it helped them enjoy the class.

“I thought I would get much more pushback on this from students, and I didn’t think student outcomes would be so significant,” Logan wrote in a Twitter thread. “Given these results, I’m very encouraged to continue with the policy.”

The one concern was the electronics ban might be an issue for students with learning disabilities who rely on technology. Logan allowed students to petition for an exception, but no student did during the spring term.

“A deep understanding of when and how the use of smart devices and other technologies should be diluted or entirely removed from the learning environment remains elusive,” John Craven, associate professor of education at Fordham University, New York, NY, said. “Dr. Logan’s willingness to shed light on this topic is commendable, particularly given the potential of rebellion from students who are currently all too often addicted to their smart devices.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Study: Three-Year Degrees Need Work

Three-year bachelor’s programs may be one way to reduce the overall cost of higher education while moving students into the workforce faster, according to a new study by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).

PPI identified 32 institutions that were already offering bachelor’s degrees in three years but claimed all the programs deserved an “F” grade. “That’s because,” said the study report, “with the exception of a handful of schools such as Southern Oregon University, most are merely four-year programs squeezed into a three-year window.”

The study recommended that three-year programs reduce the number of general and liberal-arts courses required so that most of a student’s time can be devoted to in-depth work in one or two subjects. That’s how many European universities structure their three-year degrees.

To that end, the study said, students should also be required to declare a major or concentration as an entering first-year student, although allowed to switch later if they choose. Students also should be given more credit for completing Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses in high school.

The study also blasted the cost of three-year programs, noting most are just a little cheaper than four-year degrees, mainly because summer enrollment is usually necessary. PPI recommended a 25% drop in tuition and fees for three-year programs and also advocated that Congress reserve all federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, solely for three-year students.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Google Tackles Digital Addiction, Distraction

The next version of Google’s Android operating system, called Android P, will include features to help users, including students, address issues of digital distraction and smartphone addiction.

Google unveiled the features, which are in public beta but aren’t likely to show up as part of an Android update for months, last week at its I/O Silicon Valley developer conference.

Among the new features, placing your phone face-down on a flat surface will activate a Do Not Disturb mode that mutes calls and shuts down any visual notifications. Select VIP contacts can be tagged to allow them to break through DND mode.

A Family Link app will let parents monitor how often their kids access certain apps, block or approve app downloads, set limits on screen time, and, if necessary, remotely lock their offspring’s devices.

A dashboard will show when and how often you unlock your phone, and how long you spend with each app. There will be an option to set time limits on apps; once you hit the limit on an app, its icon will turn gray on your screen (but will still be usable).

Similarly, a wind-down mode will fade your screen to gray at a user-set bedtime as a reminder it’s time to stop for the day. The feature will also put the phone into Do Not Disturb mode.

It’s expected Apple will also announce options to deal with these same issues in an update to its iPhone iOS software in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Coding Boot-Camp Grads Finding Success

Just under 50% of graduates with a traditional four-year college degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) land jobs in their field, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The data also noted that 74% of people with a STEM degree aren’t actually working in the field.

However, a 2017 survey found that 73% of coding boot-camp grads secured STEM jobs and 80% said their jobs directly related to or used skills acquired in the boot camp. The survey was conducted by Course Report, a coding boot-camp directory.

Coding boot-camp grads also reported an average salary increase of about 51% and that their average starting salary was more than $70,000 a year. Most boot-camp grads have six years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree, but have never worked as a programmer before, according to the report.

“The number of computer science jobs continues to grow, and there’s a skills gap between the number of skilled workers and the number of available jobs,” said Jay Patel, chief operating and financial officer of Coding Dojo. “We need to tackle that need together. It’s not just companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon that need this skill—it’s also companies that didn’t start in technology, but that are now leveraging websites and technology to improve their products.”

While the survey painted a rosy picture for coding boot-camp grads, it also showed that patience is required in landing that STEM job. A third of coding boot-camp grads found jobs within 30 days, but it took others up to six months. There are also complaints about boot-camp scams and continued unemployment.

“You are constantly grinding and putting in hours,” said Brian Kang, a graduate of the Coding Dojo boot camp. “That alone trains your mind and habits to the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed in learning new, difficult skills. That’s a large part of what employers seek out: your drive and work ethic.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Brown Programs Fill Gap for Books, Food

Some college students with limited funds are forced into a no-win choice: buy course materials or buy food. Some don’t have the money for either. Two new programs at Brown University aim to resolve that dilemma for the lowest-income students.

Up to now, noted a report in University Business, students on financial aid were expected to pick up meal costs out of earnings from work-study or summer jobs. However, a working group exploring why some students couldn’t afford to buy their textbooks found that these jobs sometimes didn’t pay enough to cover both food and books.

Starting with the 2018-19 academic year, Brown will expand the amount of aid provided to undergraduate students whose parents earn less than $60,000 and are unable to contribute anything toward their university expenses. In addition to tuition, fees, and housing, the aid package will now include a full meal plan, ensuring students have access to 20 meals per week.

Also, the institution will try out a separate program to pay for course materials for students who have a zero-dollar parent contribution. Students will use a special swipe card to purchase course materials. Only first-year students will be eligible to participate in the pilot for 2018-19, but if it’s successful, Brown hopes to offer the program to all needy students the following year.

“We’ve found that some students are selecting courses based on how much books cost. Our goal is to ensure that no student feels compelled to make educational choices based on finances,” said Vernicia Elie, an assistant dean who was part of the working group.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Online Testing May Widen Achievement Gap

Proponents say computer-based standardized tests are more secure than traditional paper-and-pencil testing, can be scored faster, and allow questions to be designed more innovatively. They also see online testing as good preparation for students facing a job market that more and more emphasizes tech capabilities.

However, some educators say that moving to computerized testing is actually increasing an achievement gap they’ve worked for years to shrink.

Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data in 2015 found that about five million households with school-aged children didn’t have a high-speed Internet connection at home; many of those were low-income black or Hispanic households.

A March 2017 Pew post indicated that the divide persists, with nearly half of households with an annual income below $30,000 not having broadband service or a desktop or laptop computer at home. Researchers report that the majority of teachers in poor districts claim their students aren’t prepared to take online tests. Some schools have so few computers that each student only gets access once a week.

“Putting the test online just sets the city kids three steps back,” Jessica Shiller, associate professor of education at Towson University, Towson, MD, told The Washington Post. “It’s more a measure of income than skill.”

Instructors are put in the unenviable position of having to teach both class content and computer use to prepare their students for high-stakes tests such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests, which cover English and mathematics for grades 3-11.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cutting-Edge Hackers Threaten Higher Ed

For IT professionals in higher education, cybercrime has become much more sophisticated than hackers simply sending out email blasts in hopes of finding an unsuspecting recipient. Criminals now create fake online ecosystems that look so real that even the most skeptical individual may be convinced they’re legitimate.

Then there’s the problem of information shared on social media, which is so plentiful that it makes it easy to gather information about an organization and create targeted messages that are even more persuasive.

“No matter how much training we give a faculty or staff member about how to recognize a suspicious message, it’s hard to blame them for failing to recognize a message that is crafted and customized to look as innocuous as possible,” Nicci Fagan, director of Central and Eastern U.S. higher education sales for CDW-G, wrote in an EdTech post.

Technology solutions enable IT pros to stay up-to-date, but communication is the key to security. Users need to understand just how advanced these attacks can be and the serious threat they pose.

“IT staff who develop campus awareness initiatives may find it useful to educate users not only on specific signs to watch out for—for example, characteristics of phishing emails—but also on the broader context of hacking itself,” Fagan said. “Many users may not realize, for example, the extent to which hacking has become a big business, complete with the tools and resources to craft effective deception.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

More Enrollees Are Just a Phone Call Away

There could be tens of thousands of potential community-college students out there who haven’t enrolled yet, apparently because they never got around to completing the paperwork. A simple phone call could reel them in.

According to Education Dive, a recent presentation at the American Association of Community Colleges Annual Meeting described how several colleges decided to conduct a call campaign to reach two groups of prospective students: those who had applied but didn’t finish forms for financial aid and those who had submitted financial-aid papers but hadn’t enrolled in classes.

The results of the calls were pretty amazing. Hillsborough Community College in Florida, for example, increased enrollment by 745 students compared to the previous year, amounting to more than $3 million in revenue. San Juan College in New Mexico got 17% of the individuals called in the first semester to enroll; the percentage went up to 46% in the second semester. Like Hillsborough, San Juan enjoyed a nice bump in revenue, helping to keep the institution afloat as state support declines.

Schools that called students who had taken courses but not re-enrolled also saw similar results.

The effectiveness of the phone calls suggests that many students may need that extra point of contact to stay on track. Some may struggle with complicated forms and don’t know where to get assistance, some may have missed a deadline and weren’t sure how to proceed, while others may simply require a little more encouragement.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

U.S. Not Prepping Students for the AI Future

As the world heads toward a more automated economy rooted in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), the United States ranks behind other wealthy nations in how well it’s preparing students for that future.

A new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, rated the U.S. ninth in its “automation readiness” index—behind South Korea, Germany, Singapore, Japan, Canada, Estonia, France, and the U.K. The study looked at policies to promote technological progress, creation of new businesses, and the development of policies and skills to help manage a transitioning labor market.

“If countries need a long-term strategy to deal with the challenges of automation, education must be at the center of it,” stated the report, which ranked the U.S. ninth in terms of its education policies. Students will need human-centered soft skills, such as critical thinking and communication, as well as grounding in certain hard skills that will need constant upgrading throughout their working lives as technology continues to advance. Adequately preparing those students will require changes to both curricula and to how educators themselves are trained.

“Very few countries are taking the bull by the horns when it comes to adapting education systems for the age of automation,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of education, gender, and employment initiatives for the World Economic Forum. “Those that are have long had a clear focus on human capital development.”

“We’re in a stage of experimentation,” noted James Bessen, executive director of the Technology & Policy Initiative at Boston University School of Law, “and I think it’s going to take us a couple of decades to figure out which policies and approaches work and which don’t.”

Considering it’s starting out behind among developed nations, those decades may be a luxury the U.S. can’t afford. The five highest-performing countries have already begun reshaping teacher education for the needs of the automated future.