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, June 29, 2018

Integrating Access to Content

Seamless integration of academic content and tools with a school’s learning management systems (LMS) really shouldn’t be an issue. However, institutions regularly face challenges in integrating digital learning materials with all the different campus systems.

“When solutions integrate well, the students and professors shouldn’t notice any differences between our platforms and the external content,” said Steve Kessinger, director of information services and technology at Bluefield College, Bluefield, VA. “Integrations should enhance the educational experience, not be a barrier.”

Integration should make access to digital content possible from the institution’s LMS interface and not in a new window from a new interface. Students shouldn’t have to log into the LMS a second time to access the material. Seamless integration can also make it possible for students to immediately access content as soon as they register for a class through their LMS accounts.

A well-integrated system allows students’ quiz and homework grades to go directly to the LMS gradebook for review by the instructor. It should also be easy for instructors to edit and share content with students, while administrators should be able to see analytics and student performance measurements.

To make it all happen, colleges and universities, along with instructors, need to be working with LMS providers on universal standards.

“When vendors adhere to sets of standards as opposed to proprietary approaches, it becomes far easier for institutions to adopt their solutions,” Kessinger said. “Our application development resources are extremely limited. Developing custom integrations can be very time-consuming and costly.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Students Need a Hand with Basic Costs

Low-income, first-in-family college students sometimes need a little help getting to the finish line. Institutions typically respond with solutions such as tuition aid and academic counseling. That may not be enough, according to speakers at The New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum held recently.

“The new economics of college goes way beyond tuition; we spend so much time talking about whether tuition is going up, whether it’s frozen, whether that makes college affordable. But the vast majority of the cost of attending college faced by students in the United States are things like books and supplies, room and board, medical expenses, transportation, clothing,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, in a report about the conference on Education Dive.

Goldrick-Rab and other speakers pointed out that some students need assistance covering basic living expenses while they’re in school, yet that gap has been overlooked by colleges and universities. A study conducted by Temple University with the Wisconsin HOPE Lab indicated 36% of students are food insecure and 36% are housing insecure.

Similar findings emerged from the Monthly Student Panel survey conducted last spring by NACS OnCampus Research. When asked how concerned they were about having enough money to pay necessary bills such as rent, food, and monthly expenses, 23% of student respondents were “extremely” or “very” concerned. Another 23% were “somewhat” concerned.

In the same survey, students ranked “paying for home/rent expenses” as their No. 1 cost concern and 29% said they “often” or “sometimes” go without food when they’re hungry because they don’t have the money.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Most Teens Want to Cut Their Screen Time

Almost two-thirds of young people ages 13-18 claim they wish they were better able to self-limit how much time they spend on their smartphone, according to a survey of more than 1,000 teens by Screen Education, which consults and conducts research and workshops on "digital wellness" issues.

Even more (68%) said they’d attempted to reduce their screen time and 26% said they wished someone else would limit their screen time for them. More than half who attend a school that bans smartphones in class said they were glad of that policy.

“These kids know their phones are compromising so many aspects of their lives and they want help, Michael Mercier, president of Screen Education, said in a statement. He recommended imposing “reasonable limits” on screen time and cultivating teens’ ability to police their own screen time.

Among the survey’s other findings:

• 69% of respondents said they wish they could spend more time in face-to-face interactions rather than socializing online.
• 32% want to stop using their phone but find themselves unable to do so—every day.
• 41% said they feel overwhelmed every day by their notifications.
• 41% said phones present an obstacle to getting the best grades they can.
• 36% said they witness cyberbullying on a weekly basis.
• 31% have seen online bullying escalate to physical violence.
• 73% said they feel social media use is a factor in conditions that can lead to school shootings.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Campus Store Weights In on Rental Debate

In an opinion piece earlier this month in Inside Higher Ed, a University of North Dakota professor claimed that rental textbooks limited student access to course materials and stifled critical thinking and conversation. Jason Katzman, CCR, assistant director for academic resource support, CU Book Store, University of Colorado Boulder, says he understands the prof’s points but argues rentals are a symptom rather than a cause.

Twenty years ago, a student bought a book, sold it back at the end of the semester, and maybe received something close to half (although probably not) of what they had paid if the book was being used again the next semester,” Katzman wrote in his Inside Higher Ed rebuttal. “Of course, professors complained then that the buyback process devalued the educational experience by encouraging students to part with important materials they might need for another class or later in life as a reference. Then, along came the Internet and Amazon, and the model that traditional collegiate textbook retailers had been using for years was upended. For many stores, renting textbooks is a way to compete while remaining financially viable.”

Market forces determine where students decide to get their course materials. Selling a textbook for $400 has become unthinkable, so rental has become a way for bookstores to remain relevant and viable. The current trend of providing students low-cost digital course materials as part of tuition or course fees is another solution that helps publishers and bookstores stay in business while driving prices down for students.

“If the higher-education community wants to spend large amounts of energy working on the high cost of course materials, they should. It’s important,” Katzman wrote. “However, we’re being shortsighted. In addition to course materials delivery, another model that’s broken is higher education itself. What happens when Amazon or somebody else finds a way to offer a bachelor’s degree for 75% of its current cost?”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Online Students Prefer Quick and Easy

Convenience and speed appear to be very important to college students who are taking—or plan to take—all of their courses online.

A new study conducted by Learning House, which operates online courses for institutions, and Aslanian Market Research showed that 67% of online students are using mobile devices to finish some portion of their course requirements. Reading course materials and communicating with instructors are the most-common activities. That suggests students are using their smartphone or tablet to catch up on schoolwork in between other responsibilities, most likely when they’re away from home.

Online students gave lower ratings to scheduled class sessions conducted via webconferencing than they did to other class activities they could access in their own time, such as videos, slides, readings, interactive media, and discussion boards.

“When students were asked about the features they deemed most important in the online programs they chose or were considering, a double-digit share of their responses went to innovations that can expedite their education,” noted a summary of the study in Campus Technology. Those innovations include year-round courses, self-paced classes, accelerated courses, and online programs that can be completed in less time than face-to-face classes.

The survey also showed a growing number of online students have at least some interest in exploring other new types of postsecondary education, such as competency-based education, stackable credentials, and “textbook-free” programs.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Users Retain Info Better from Virtual Study

People recall information better after viewing it in an immersive virtual environment than they do when using a desktop display, according to recent research conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Volunteers first studied printouts of two 21-image sets of famous faces, such as Napoleon, Gandhi, Mickey Mouse, George Washington, and Marilyn Monroe. They were then shown one set of faces placed throughout one of two “memory palaces,” either an ornate palace or a medieval townscape.

After five minutes to navigate and study the memory palace and then a two-minute break, the subjects re-entered the memory palace, where the faces had been replaced by numbers, and were asked to recall which faces had been in which positions. Half of the participants viewed the scene first using a virtual-reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) and then a desktop computer display with mouse-based interaction; the other half used the desktop first and then the HMD.

“The users that used the HMD first and then moved to a traditional desktop had better performance than those who used the desktop first and then the HMD,” wrote the researchers. “This suggests a positive transfer effect from the HMD to a desktop.”

Overall, VR users showed 8.8% better recall, which means immersive VR-based education and virtual memory palaces may prove more effective than traditional methods in K-12, higher ed, and job training.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Digital Student IDs Are Here

It was just a matter of time before colleges and universities started offering students the choice of digital identification cards. Apple is taking a big step to move the process forward, rolling out a digital student ID initiative to begin in the fall at Duke University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma, and at Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University, and Temple University by the end of the calendar year.

The ID cards will use the same near-field communications chip used for Apple Pay and will be available on newer iPhones and the Apple Watch. Phil Hill, an edtech consultant and blogger, views digital student IDs as a way for schools to better serve their students and for Apple to sell more watches.

“The bigger play here for Apple is about the watch, with the iPhone thrown in as a backwards compatibility and ensuring a usable program for students who have far more iPhones than watches,” Hill told EdSurge.

Some worry the initiative might be seen as discriminatory since students who don’t have an Apple device won’t be able to participate. Colleges and universities will also need to create guidelines for tracking the information the IDs will collect on students.

“This fits into [the] overall trend of ‘Trojan Horse’ technology that is designed for one purpose, but has data collection as part of its platform,” said Avi Chelsa, founder and CEO of empow cybersecurity. “Universities are becoming more and more data-driven, using data to track behaviors and derive insights in the same way that hotels, airports, and other institutions are.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

STEM Jobs Losing Steam with Teens?

Fewer teenagers are interested in careers in science or the arts, but more are looking at health and public-service work. However, colleges and universities might want to hold off on adjusting their course offerings just yet.

For the second consecutive year, Junior Achievement and Ernst & Young surveyed 13- to 17-year-olds about their career ambitions and financial literacy. The percentage of teens who said they’re considering working in the arts dropped from 18% in 2017 to 13% this year, but the decrease for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers was even bigger.

Just 24% of teen boys, compared to 36% a year ago, have their eye on a STEM field after high school, even though the number of girls interested in STEM (11%) didn’t change year over year. The reasons behind such a large drop with the boys in just 12 months isn’t clear, though.

“It’s definitely disconcerting that we see declining interest in STEM,” Ed Grocholski, senior vice president of brand at Junior Achievement and manager of the survey project, told U.S. News. “Teens look for a career they’re good at, and they may not think they’re good at math and science.”

The survey indicated that Mom and Dad may be playing a more important role in shaping teens’ views on careers, as 28% of survey respondents said their parents were the major influence, compared to 19% in 2017. It could be those parents are steering their kids toward other fields. Nineteen percent of teenagers want careers in medical or dental fields, up from 15% last year, and 10% would like to enter the public-service sector, up from 7%.

About 43% of the teen respondents also said they expect their parents will pay for college (compared to 32% last year), and 45% (up from 33%) anticipate taking out a student loan.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Screen Time Linked to Insomnia, Depression

For adolescents, the more time spent on electronic screens the greater the likelihood of insomnia and shorter sleep duration, which in turn are linked to a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. Those were the findings of a new study by researchers at Stony Brook University, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Higher rates of depressive symptoms among teens may be partially explained through the ubiquitous use of screen-based activities, which can interfere with high-quality restorative sleep,” Stella Xian Li, a postdoctoral associate at Stony Brook.

Parents, health-care professionals, and educators should consider instructing adolescents about the effects of screen time and regulating device use.

“We’re very interested to see whether the adverse influences of social media and screen use on sleep and mental health persist during the transition to adulthood,” said Lauren Hale, a professor of family, population, and preventive medicine at Stony Brook who also collaborated on the study.

The researchers analyzed data from surveys of more than 2,800 teens, about evenly divided between males and females. Respondents reported how many hours they spent daily on gaming, social messaging, TV/movies, and web surfing. Gaming was found to have a stronger link to depressive symptoms than messaging activity.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Prof Vents about Textbook Rentals

Does renting textbooks save students money or cost them the real value of a college education? Sheila Liming, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, makes a case for the latter in an opinion column for Inside Higher Education.

“A degree used to mean learning from texts and racking up a cumulative store of skills and reference materials along the way,” she wrote. “But with the rise of textbook rentals, the rules of learning are getting rewritten, and not by education professionals, and not in accordance with the needs of student consumers, either.”

Her issue with rentals is they’re promoted as a cost-savings option but there are limits to how students can access and use the materials. Those are roadblocks that inhibit critical thinking and conversation, according to Liming.

“Rental companies insist that a given book can only be ‘useful’ to a student for the duration of a single semester, and so encourage students to see their own learning as fated for expiration and uselessness,” she said. “Even worse, rental companies and vendors—including campus bookstores—actively discourage students’ efforts to use the text they have rented, since wear and tear threatens the longevity of a book that a vendor wants to re-rent over and over again.”

To Liming, rental is just the latest “scheme” to make a buck, and is doing so at the expense of students’ education, depriving them of the ability to look back at previous classes or assignments to gauge their progress.

“Students are paying more and being coerced into renting because they are told they must, and  because they have not been made aware of their options,” she concluded. “It is therefore up to education professionals to show them—and to fight for the expansion of—worthy, cost-friendly alternatives, including both OER (open educational resources) and affordable print editions. Those alternatives do exist, and anyone who says differently is, as the saying goes, probably selling something.”

Liming may have a point when it comes to affordable alternatives for her English classes, but what about required texts for introductory biology or chemistry classes? Do students with other majors actually want to keep them to reflect back on and will they ever consider those textbooks affordable?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Few Changes Bump Grad Rate

Over the course of 14 years, Georgia State University managed to boost its six-year graduation rate from 32% to 54%. Some of the methods used by the university to raise that rate didn’t cost a lot and, in hindsight, seem rather obvious.

For instance, the school realized that how well (or not) students did in introductory courses in their major served as a fairly reliable predictor of their academic success (or lack of it) later on. However, students who needed help could only receive generalized tutoring in writing, math, and languages. So, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the university hired high-performing students to attend course sections and provide tutoring on that specific content each week to other students who needed it.

Many intro courses were moved to a “flipped” format, which required students to complete reading assignments beforehand so that they could use class time to apply the concepts in the course materials.

Students also used to change their major an average of 2.6 times, which forced them to stay in school longer to complete degree requirements. Georgia State now provides students with a lot more information about majors—including more opportunities to meet with faculty and alumni—to help them make better-informed decisions about their field of study, cutting the rate of major-hopping by 32%.

One tactic that did cost the school a little more up front was hiring a number of academic advisors to get in touch with students more promptly when analytics indicated they were in need of help. The extra expense paid off, however, as fewer students dropped out.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Most Millennials Faked Out by Fake News

At a time when “fake news” and online deception are topics of national debate, a majority of 1,000 college students and recent workforce entrants, aged 18-31, were unable to pass a basic, nine-question test of their digital literacy and critical-thinking ability.

The second-annual State of Critical Thinking survey commissioned by MindEdge Inc., a producer of online courses, and conducted by ResearchNow, found that only 19% of its millennial participants earned an “A” by answering eight or nine of the questions correctly, down from 24% in the inaugural 2017 survey. More than half couldn’t answer more than five questions correctly, earning a failing grade.

This year’s results were also worse in every segment, whether broken out by age, gender, or school type. For instance, in 2017 15% of students at two-year colleges got eight to nine answers correct, but that fell to just 9% in 2018. At four-year-plus colleges, 27% answered eight to nine questions correctly in 2017, but only 22% scored that well this year.

Contrary to their test results, these “digital native” respondents expressed an unwarranted confidence in their own capacity for critical thinking. Almost 60% said they were very confident in their soft skills and 40%—up five points from 2017—claimed to be very confident in their ability to see through bogus online content. At the same time, just 57% of participants said they believe their peers and colleagues are adept at critical thinking.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Too Early to Tell About Tennessee Promise

Education officials in Tennessee have released data on the Tennessee Promise, a program designed to make community college free for graduating high school seniors in the state. The results were encouraging, but it’s too soon to proclaim a smashing success.

Of the more than 13,000 students who participated in the Tennessee Promise class of 2015, 21.5% graduated with a degree or certificate, an increase over the 13.8% of students who accomplished the same thing the year before the program started. The data also indicated that only 8.3% of students who didn’t enroll in the Tennessee Promise in 2015 were able to earn a degree or certificate in five semesters.

“I have my degree and zero student debt,” one graduate of the program said in a National Public Radio report. “You do have to pay for your books and your parking passes, but that’s a heck of a deal. You can’t beat that.”

On the other hand, the dropout rate for the first Tennessee Promise class was just 2.3% lower than the rate of freshmen who dropped out in 2014. Some in higher ed also argue the data don’t actually show what caused the increase in degrees and certificates attained.

“We don’t have a benchmark for success on this because Tennessee’s the first state,” said Joni Finney, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “I’m just worried about pulling the carrot out of the ground too soon to see if it’s full grown. I think these programs have to evolve.”