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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Fear of Missing Out Is Addicting

Surveys have shown that mobile devices can be addictive, particularly for youngsters. Concern has grown to the point where investors are starting to urge tech firms to take action to address it.

To Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellness, it’s really about the way phone apps are being used.

“When we think about social media, so much of it is created on this feedback loop of notification. They want to promote engagement,” Homayoun said during a CNBC interview. “They create this system where you always want to be online. And it can create this fear of missing out if we’re not online.”

Homayoun recommended that parents give younger children a flip phone for emergency use only. She also suggested that parents establish times when kids aren’t allowed to use the device, such as in the bedroom at night, even as an alarm clock. Parents should consider applications that monitor usage, too.

“Social media isn’t good or bad, it’s a new tool for communications,” she said. “But what is a problem is that we as adults don’t fully speak the language that kids are speaking, and we need to.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How Profs Dodge Royalties Bullet

College instructors teach courses in the subjects on which they are experts. Faculty also share their expertise by writing books on the same subjects. What should professors do when they’re tapped to lead courses on the identical subject matter covered by their books?

Some faculty choose to assign their own books as required reading, but are taking great pains to avoid profiting much—if at all—from the sale of books to their students, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In these cases, the books in question aren’t particularly costly as textbooks go, so the issue centers on the royalties paid to the authors.

Some instructors negotiate special discounts with their publishers on behalf of students to offset the royalties. Others estimate how much in royalties they might receive from students’ purchases and donate that amount to a campus cause or scholarship, or treat the class to lunch. For some classes, professors may use just one or two chapters of their book and provide free printouts to students.

Another tactic is to allow students to borrow the instructor’s copies of the book, although one professor noted in the article that only one student had accepted his loan so far.

One adjunct professor interviewed for the article considers most textbooks on the same topic to be “interchangeable” and she “questioned the need for assigning one’s own work.” In the event a professor decides to adopt his own book anyway, she suggested asking the publisher to simply pocket the royalties on books sold to the class instead of paying it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Taking Aim at Higher-Ed Ghostwriters

A survey of 1,000 higher-education instructors found that 32% said they suspected students of turning in work that was done by someone else. The study also noted that two of three instructors said they didn’t act on their suspicion because of “insufficient evidence.”

Plagiarism-detection services are available to combat ghostwriting services. One online firm, Turnitin, is launching a new product later this year, called Authorship Investigation, that uses machine-learning algorithms to alert instructors to assignments potentially written by someone other than students in their class.

Just having such detection technology could deter students from hiring others to do their homework, according to Derek Newton, in his eCampus News report on combating contract cheating. However, he also pointed out other ways to stop cheating that don’t require an investment.

Assigning students to do at least one writing assignment during class makes it easier to spot cheating on writing done outside the classroom. For online courses, instructors should consider assignments that can only be completed with the student logged in and with a set time limit to finish.

While there’s nothing illegal about ghostwriters advertising their services on websites such as craigslist, school inquiries could make content providers leery about adding new customers. College leaders might also consider penalties if it’s proven that students are employing a ghostwriting service that’s been used in the past by others.

“While it’s a fool’s errand to try to eradicate cheating entirely, contracted work production remains among the last, wholly untouched fields of fraud and, because it is, every turn of the vise to squeeze it is both necessary and helpful,” Newton wrote.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Study Tracks When Students Zone Out

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a way to detect when students using personalized learning software start to daydream. By using machine-learning algorithms on recordings of student eye movement, the researchers were able to figure out which eye patterns were associated with the mind wandering.

The study found that when students’ eyes matched “zoning out” patterns, they were less focused on the work than those students who showed “not zoning out” patterns. It also noted that when students were paying attention, their eyes bounced around the screen more.

“When you’re zoning out, you’re just fixating,” explained Sidney D’Mello, leader of the University of Colorado research team. “You’re not moving on.”

The study could lead to instructional software that monitors mind wandering in real time. That troubles Jill Barshay, a contributing editor for The Hechinger Report who writes about education research and data.

“Do we really want to curb mind wandering?” she asked. “It’s associated with creativity, and perhaps a bit of mind wandering is needed to come up with big thoughts.”

Barshay suggested the result might be used better to point out the places where the computerized learning bores students, instead of creating prompts to keep them on track.

“But what I find fascinating about this research is how data scientists have come to a conclusion that contradicts human intuition,” she wrote. “You often hear teachers say that they don’t need data to tell them what their students know. Well, this research points out that it’s hard for teachers to know when students are really absorbing something just by looking at their faces.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

No Time for Math? Just Phone It In

While most college instructors prefer that students stow their cellphones during class, a new course offered at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, actually intends students to get their phones out.

In developing the online mathematics class, the university made sure that all course materials and assignments are mobile-friendly and accessible via cellphones. The intent is to furnish more flexibility for students who may not own a computer or tablet or who may need to fit their studying into odd times away from home, such as during a work break or commute.

The course consists of a series of study modules. Students can read the materials for each module and then complete an assignment on their phone. They receive their assignment score immediately and if they earn a passing grade, they can move on to the next module at their own pace.

The instructor monitors the students’ work, provides feedback on assignments, and keeps in touch with each student by phone. Students can also schedule in-person meetings with the instructor or reach her by email.

The class also has its own Facebook group page, which, of course, is also accessible by cellphone.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Digital Divide in Risk Awareness

Last week, the watchdog group Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology—a nonprofit formed by several former Facebook and Google employees—launched a multiyear “Truth about Tech” campaign to increase awareness of the addictive nature of smartphones and other electronic devices and of social media.

Beginning with ads targeting 55,000 public schools in the U.S., the campaign aims to engage educators, parents, kids, legislators, health officials, and tech manufacturers on the dangers of constant connection. The aim is not simply to warn but also to encourage changes in behavior and in how devices are designed and marketed.

Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a former design ethicist at Google, told CBS News, “The truth about what’s happening on the other side of the screen is that this is happening by design. There’s a whole bunch of techniques that are deliberately used to keep the auto-play watching on YouTube to keep you watching the next video, or streaks on Snapchat to keep kids hooked, to feel like they have to keep this streak going.”

The potential for harm is even greater for minority and disadvantaged children, who, according to multiple research studies, spend much more time in front of screens. In addition, a 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that lower-income parents are less informed about the risks of too much screen time than their higher-earning counterparts.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, writing in The New York Times, said, “The real digital divide is not between children who have access to the Internet and those who don’t. It’s between children whose parents know that they have to restrict screen time and those whose parents have been sold a bill of goods by schools and politicians that more screens are a key to success.”

Friday, February 9, 2018

Tech/Social Face Rising Addiction Concerns

Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, challenged readers of his Study Hacks blog (dedicated to exploring “how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age”) to cut out all digital interaction that wasn’t crucial to their job or personal/family life for the month of January. After that, they could gradually resume interactions that still seemed to have value.

Of the almost 2,000 people who said they’d try the unplugging experiment, many reported exploring new hobbies, as well as discovering just how dependent they’d let themselves become on phone apps and websites.

Newport’s challenge is part of a growing debate on the role social media and digital technology play in our lives and their impact on society. At the beginning of the year, the investment management firm Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System sent a letter to Apple, asking the tech giant to consider the “unintentional negative consequences” its products may be having on children and teenagers. They recommended forming a panel of experts to study the issue, more funding for research on it, and better parental controls for Apple devices.

While “technology addiction” isn’t yet an officially sanctioned diagnosis in the U.S., brain-imaging studies and other research is finding evidence that overuse of electronic devices can present problems for young people and their developing brains. Some in the treatment community view the issue as a matter of habit rather than addiction, but even without scientific consensus or official recognition, more and more facilities and programs are being established to help children and teens deal with digital or social media dependence.

As digital media becomes increasingly embedded in education, schools and instructors will need to model and encourage healthier relationships with technology.

If evidence of real harm accumulates and more people cut back in favor of “digital minimalism,” the tech industry and social media platforms may need to re-examine their business models. As noted by NPR, “as long as these companies make their money from advertising, they will have incentive to try to design products that maximize the time you spend using them, whether or not it makes your life better.”

Changes may already be emerging, as evidenced by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution to amend many of his platform’s flaws. As a first step, new standards this year mean that Facebook users will now see more content from friends, family, and groups in their News Feed and less from companies, brands, and media. Posts that facilitate more meaningful social interactions will be encouraged, and that shift will be expanded across all of Facebook’s products over time.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

High School Grads Continue, If They Can

A sizable majority of high school students are going on to obtain additional education shortly after 12th grade, but the usual culprit—cost—is preventing some students from enrolling in postsecondary classes.

A new study by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics followed 20,000 ninth-graders from 2009 to 2016, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed. Nearly all (92%) graduated from high school and 72% of them had entered some type of certificate or degree program or other vocational classes by February 2016, when the study concluded.

Not surprisingly, 80% of the students who attended private high schools continued their education, while fewer than 49% of those from public high schools did so. Students who didn’t pursue postsecondary courses often cited insufficient finances as the reason. For 40% of students who started college after high school and then dropped out, lack of money was also the cause.

Personal situations and “work” (presumably schedules) also kept many students from seeking additional training or education. Employment and studies seemed to be a tough combination: Just 7% of the students who went on to postsecondary coursework also held full-time jobs, and only about 25% had a part-time gig while taking classes.

Given the number of nontraditional-aged adults currently attending colleges and universities, no doubt some of the study’s students who haven’t continued on will eventually enroll somewhere. However, some are in a Catch-22 of sorts; even if grants or other aid cover all their educational expenses, 60% of them are still struggling to pay for daily living expenses.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Google for Education Tests DIY VR

At the end of January, Google for Education unveiled a beta program that will allow instructors and students to craft their own immersive virtual-reality (VR) experiences using a Google app and a 360-degree camera.

Many classrooms already employ the Google Expeditions teaching tool to explore the world and outer space virtually via mobile devices and VR viewers. However, a “create your own” experience was the feature most requested by students and educators. The beta will allow participants to upload 360-degree images to the Google app and then annotate them with videos, two-dimensional images, and descriptive text to enhance the experience.

Ease of use is designed into the program. “If you know how to type, you’re good to go,” Jennifer Holland, lead program manager for Google Expeditions and G Suite for Education, told Education Week.

For schools that don’t have their own 360-degree cameras, Google will loan them devices for the duration of the beta.

Friday, February 2, 2018

MicroBachelors Could Be Next for Higher Ed

The online education provider edX has developed 45 MicroMasters degrees, online programs that provide a pathway to admission into a full master’s program. Now, the company is turning its attention to MicroBachelors.

“Education in five to 10 years will become modular, will become omnichannel, and will become lifelong,” edX CEO Anant Agarwal said during a recent higher-ed innovation summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. “We are going to make it so. It’s not going to happen by itself, we’re going to make it happen. Modular is good because it can create new efficiencies and new scaling and new bundling of components.”

MicroBachelors are viewed as a low-cost, low-risk online way for students to start an undergraduate education. EdX, which won a $700,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for the project, is already working with Arizona State University on its Global Freshman Academy, a precursor to MicroBachelors.

One issue that could provide an obstacle is mounting evidence that online education is actually detrimental for some students.

“Online education is still in its youth,” Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy, and economics at the University of Michigan, wrote in a column for The New York Times. “Many approaches are possible, and some may ultimately benefit students with deep and diverse needs. As of now, however, the evidence is clear. For advanced learnings, online classes are a terrific option, but academically challenged students need a classroom with a teacher’s support.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Studies Paint Different Picture of Student Debt

New statistics from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study show fewer college students are taking out loans to pay for their education, while another report indicates that a large chunk of student debt is concentrated in families with the means to pay it off.

The federal study, according to Inside Higher Ed, found that 38% of full- and part-time undergraduates had taken out student loans for the 2015-16 academic year, compared to 42% for the 2011-12 year (the last time the study was conducted). The drop occurred across the board at private and public institutions, two- and four-year schools, and even at for-profit colleges.

The average loan amounted to $7,600, up about $500 from four years prior. However, that average includes loans by students at for-profit schools, who typically borrowed much more than students attending nonprofit institutions.

One reason for the decline in borrowing rates may be that grants to college students increased during the period covered by the study, from an average of $6,200 up to $7,600.

A separate study by the Urban Institute found that half of college student debt was held by families earning the top 25% of income (roughly $81,140 or more per year) and the top 10% accounted for almost one-fourth of student debt, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The concentration of education debt among the relatively affluent means that some policies designed to reduce the burden of education debt are actually regressive. Focusing on lowering the interest rate on all outstanding student debt or on forgiving large amounts of that debt would bestow significant benefits on relatively well-off people,” wrote the researchers.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Twitter Goes to School

Despite all the anxiety over Twitter’s impact on civil discourse and society in general, more and more educators are finding the social platform a valuable tool for sharing assignments, increasing student engagement, and archiving classroom resources.

In intermediate and high-school grades, Twitter can be used to connect with students where they already are. One New Jersey high-school teacher found that students checked her classroom Twitter account more often than they read school emails.

Some school systems or individual instructors may be dubious of Twitter’s value or uncertain about what sorts of content they should tweet. In a blog post, Steve Williams, co-founder of Campus Suite, a provider of cloud-based communications solutions for schools, set out four areas where Twitter can and should be used by educators:

1. Enhancing student engagement—Any additional channel for communicating with students is a plus. In addition to tweeting project due dates and reminders about quizzes and tests, teachers can send links to class notes and even design projects that encourage students to use the platform to connect with each other (such as comparing their interpretations of a reading assignment) or with others (such as professionals in an industry being studied).

2. Community engagement—Twitter is a quick and easy way to share classroom news and student accomplishments with the broader community, including other school systems.

3. Connecting with parents—Almost any parent knows that classroom information isn’t always passed on to them by their offspring, so Twitter provides another path for ensuring everyone is kept in the loop, whether the content is a class reading list, a field-trip reminder, or an emergency alert.

4. Extending the school’s reach—Twitter can also deepen connections with a school system’s wider network of vendors, consultants, boosters, and board members to generate interest in new programs or support for fundraisers or a tax levy.

Friday, January 26, 2018

MOOCs Made Strides in 2017

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are now more readily available than ever, with more than 9,400 courses and 500 credentials available to anyone interested. Providers are also finding ways to make the courses more sustainable through premium credentials, online degree programs, and access to content.

Access to content has become a big business, ranging from free to million-dollar licensing deals between providers and employers. Providers are also placing more content behind paywalls, including graded assignments.

At the same time, though, enrollment has slowed. New data from Class Central, a MOOC discovery platform, showed that 20 million learners registered for their first MOOC in 2017, about three million fewer than in 2016.

“Over half a decade since their debut, MOOCs may finally have found their footing and a sustainable revenue model,” Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central, wrote in a recent post for EdSurge. “No, they didn’t disrupt universities, but they may have changed how working professions access continued learning and career-advancement opportunities.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

In Search of Business Innovation on Campus

Higher education has a reputation, deserved or not, for being resistant to change. Some universities, according to a report in eCampus News, are trying to dispel that image by appointing a chief innovation officer to lead and encourage positive change on the business side of the institution.

A study by Russell Reynolds Associates found that 20%-30% of the “top” 50 U.S. universities have developed a senior-level position devoted to innovation, entrepreneurship, or new ventures. Their specific duties may vary, but in general “this role is strategic and aims at driving and maximizing revenues from innovation,” said the report.

Chief innovation officers focus on finding new and different revenue sources for the university, rather than looking for ways to bring innovation to teaching and learning, but some are involved in fostering greater collaboration across departments and disciplines.

Innovation can take two forms: sustained or disruptive, according to Education Dive’s new monthly Innovation Column. “Sustained innovation maintains the current framework of competitive idea engineering, while disruptive developments change the trajectory of how leaders must operate for their institutions to stay competitive, or even survive,” wrote Shalina Chatlani.

Chatlani noted that slow adaptation—sustained innovation—may be more effective in higher education. “It’s important for leaders to consider what it means to stay true to a mission or navigate an uncertain financial or political environment,” she wrote. “Positive change does not necessarily have to be disruptive.”