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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, August 18, 2017

Keeping the Google Book Project Alive

Google’s grand project to digitize every single book ran into a snag when authors and publishers objected and sued. Google prevailed in court, but the project stalled and left a digital database of 25 million books that “nobody is allowed to read,” according to author and programmer James Somer.

But he’s not entirely correct.

Libraries that partnered with Google for the project kept digital copies of their scanned work, which now make up about 95% of the content in the HathiTrust Digital Library, based at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The database is used to conduct research without the fear of copyright infringement, while students with disabilities can access the scanned work through the use of assistive technology.

“We couldn’t have done it without Google,” Mary Sue Coleman, current president of the Association of American Universities, said of HathiTrust. “The fact that Google did it made things happen much more rapidly, I believe, than it would have happened if universities had been doing it without a central driving force.”

The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) makes computational analysis of public-domain and copyrighted works from the collection possible. Work on copyrighted materials is done on Data Capsules, a service created by HTRC that allows for “nonconsumptive” research without violating copyright restrictions.

“I’m not a fan of everything Google, by any means,” said Paul Courant, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and the University of Michigan. “But I think this was an amazing effort that has had lasting consequences, most of them positive.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Campus Adjustment Tough for Some Students

Many college students are in peril of not graduating within four years right from the first week of their freshman year. While money is often the culprit, some students experience difficulties settling into campus life and eventually decide to either drop out or transfer.

In an article in The Washington Post, admissions directors noted today’s freshmen are not as prepared to live independently as previous generations. This may be the first time they’ve had to share a room with anyone. They’re not as proficient at planning out their day and dividing their time among numerous responsibilities and activities.

Some students, especially if they’re among the first in their families to attend college, fear they’re less capable to handle classwork than their peers. That may cause them to forgo fun activities in order to spend all their time on studying, leading to academic burnout.

Social media can provide students with a lifeline back to their families and hometown friends when they need a little emotional boost, but it can also be a retreat to hang out with high school buddies instead of pushing themselves to meet new people and engage in new experiences. Social media can also set up too-high expectations and unrealistic comparisons.

Admissions directors also point to collegiate marketing messages and entertainment media as portraying the college experience as the “best years” of anyone’s life.

“The truth is college years are not the best of your life,” said one director. “They’re just incredibly unique. There’s a big difference.”

Friday, August 11, 2017

Students Aren't Spending as Much on Books

The news is full of reports on textbook costs in higher education. OnCampus Research, the research arm of the NACS, found student spending on course materials actually decreased during the 2016-17 academic year.

Student Watch, Attitudes & Behaviors toward CourseMaterials, a survey of more than 20,000 college students, noted that average spending on 10 required courses was $579 per student, down $23 from the previous year and $122 from 2007-08. Students also said they spent another $500 on technology and school supplies.

The report found an increasing number of students cut their course materials costs by borrowing, sharing, or downloading free information needed for class, and by using formats such as open educational resources. A quarter of the students reported using free course materials, up from 19% in spring 2016 and 15% from spring 2015.

When obtaining course materials, 82% of students purchased and 57% rented from their campus store. Nearly three-quarters bought new textbooks and 70% said they purchased used copies. Just 23% bought digital, but that was an increase of 8% over fall 2015. On average, the campus store was the main source for students' course materials.

The cost of the Student Watch report is $199 for NACS store members and $999 for everyone else, and includes the final report along with data tables from both fall 2016 and spring 2017 surveys. To purchase, email mmeyer@nacs.org or go to the Insights link at oncampusresearch.com

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pricetag Drives Students' College Choice

College students are starting to head off to school for the fall term. For most of them, cost played a pivotal role in deciding which campus to attend.

According to NACS OnCampus Research’s Student Panel survey conducted in April 2017, students investigated an average of six institutions before applying to three. Some students put their school search into hyperdrive, with 17.5% exploring 10-plus schools and 18.6% applying to half a dozen or more of those.

In the criteria used for reviewing these schools, more students pointed to cost (71.2%) than any other consideration. Fairly close behind were specific academic programs (66.3%), appeal of the school’s location (66.3%), and distance from home (65.8%). A little more than half of students (51.2%) took the amount of financial aid offered into account in sizing up schools.

As their assessment of prospective schools progressed, 60.3% of students ended up not enrolling in the school that had been at the top of their list originally. Cost was the reason—or at least among the reasons—most often mentioned (by 38.8% of students). The second most-common reason was that their first-choice school didn’t accept them (22.9%).

However, when asked which factor ultimately had the most impact on where they eventually attended, cost was named by just 20% of respondents. The financial-aid package was the most important for approximately 11% of survey-takers.

Those results indicate students may use cost to filter their initial list of schools before they decide where to apply and attend based on other elements.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Millennials Claim to Learn Better from Tech

More than two-thirds (69%) of millennials aged 18-34 claim they learn more from technology than from people, according to an online Harris Poll survey conducted for Growing Leaders, a global nonprofit that produces leadership training resources. That contrasts with only about half of respondents aged 45 and older who made the same statement.

There was a gender variance, with 33% of male millennials “strongly” agreeing that they learn more from tech than from people, but only 19% of female millennials saying the same.

In addition, almost 60% of millennials reported they regularly feel overwhelmed in their daily life, compared to just 42% of adults overall. In every age group, more women than men indicated they regularly feel overwhelmed.

“Most of us don’t believe kids will be ready for adulthood when it arrives,” Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders’ founder and president, said in a statement. "We, as a collective force of parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, must do a better job in helping prepare this future generation to be effective leaders.” That includes imbuing them with resilience and resolve, he added.

Friday, August 4, 2017

National U. Rethinking Personalized Learning

National University, a California-based nonprofit that primarily enrolls adults students, has launched a $20 million, four-year project to create a personalized learning platform that combines adaptive learning, competency-based education learning (CBE), and predictive analytics. The goal is to use the new platform in 20 general-education courses by next year.

The three elements would combine in courseware that would adjust to each student’s abilities and progress, while providing data to track that progress for faculty, advisors, and the students. Incorporating CBE will make it possible to drop conventional grading and divide the course and its credits into skills the students have mastered.

As part of the project, National has also established a research-and-development department to support faculty members and will make its research available to the public.

“How do we create a university that truly tries to adapt to the needs of its students?” asked National’s president, David Andrews. “We have to have a better model for serving adults.”

Fitting all the pieces into one cohesive platform won’t be easy. Getting the CBE portion right could be the biggest challenge because it requires approval from accreditors. Providing financial aid may also prove troublesome, in the view of some industry observers.

“There’s a huge risk that you don’t understand the problem. Will they truly learn and adjust as they go along?” said Phil Hill, co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, about designing academic programs around adult learners. But he also added, “It’s definitely interesting. It’s a relatively large university that appears to be going all in on personalized learning.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

AI Still Evolving as an Educational Tool

For some, the term “artificial intelligence” conjures up somewhat sinister technology, like the androids in Blade Runner.

However, a lot of companies worldwide are banking on artificial intelligence (AI) tools becoming the next generation of educational materials, according to an EdSurge interview with a panel of technologists. Rather than creating robots to serve as teachers, though, artificial intelligence has greater value as a means to gauge students’ responses to their learning environment and their instructors. The data gathered on students through AI not only provides possibilities for individual learning, but also helps instructors work with classes as a group.

“This is about finding patterns in learning experiences,” said one panelist. “We can take note of, say, if one person’s stronger in math, how can the system identify the challenge, and then open it up to teachers so they can be better tutors for their students?”

One of the challenges for developing AI tools is that companies apply the term to very different technologies. “The problem ties back to discoverability and explainability,” commented another panelist. “If you’re going to slap on the AI label, then I want to know more.”

Some schools are also deploying forms of AI in other ways, such as in admissions to select the next freshman class. AI allows a school to use predictive modeling to assess which students are more likely to succeed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Immersive Tech Nears a Tipping Point

Higher education is closing in on a tipping point for immersive learning, according to Marci Powell, chair emerita and former president of the United States Distance Learning Association. Immersive includes 3-D, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), which refers to a hybrid environment where physical and digital entities interact in real time.

For Campus Technology’s midpoint check-in on the year’s ed-tech trends, Powell noted that the prices for virtual-reality headsets are heading sharply down as new models continue to roll out, and AR- and VR-ready laptops are negating the need for expensive hardware and servers to support VR. She added that the growing number of VR lesson plans available makes assembling a curriculum with the technology faster and easier.

However, since have/have-not gaps haven’t yet been fully bridged for such comparatively common needs as smartphones and broadband access, the market is still far from a point where all students can use more advanced immersive tech at home or in the classroom. Institutions should be working now to ensure they’re able to provide such access as the technology becomes more mainstream.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Study Takes a Closer Look at Alternative Ed

Educational programs providing students with ways to acquire practical job skills are often praised as a shorter and cheaper alternative to traditional college. However, new research has shown that it’s not quite that simple.

The report The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways, a study conducted by Ithaka S+R for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found the earning power of the different programs varies widely and depends on the subject studied. For instance, a person who has a computer-science certificate can expect to earn twice as someone holding much as a health-care or cosmetology certificate.

The study also found that certificate programs, work-based training, and competency-based programs tend to attract older, lower-income students who have not completed a college degree. At the same time, 80% of IT bootcamp participants and 75% of those enrolled in massive open online courses already have a bachelor’s degree.

Researchers found little evidence to determine how effective the many programs are, along with wide variation in their quality. They recommend more data be collected and studied on educational and employment outcomes so better quality-assurance standards can be developed.

“We quickly learned that while there’s some piecemeal information, there really hasn’t been this kind of landscape review before,” said Martin Kurzweil, director of the educational transformation program at Ithaka S+R, the firm that conducted the study. “That’s surprising, because there’s millions of Americans engaged in this kind of postsecondary education.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Report: When Funding's Cut, Tuition Jumps

For some years there has been disagreement over whether reductions in state and federal funding have been responsible for rises in college and university tuition rates. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, a new research study concludes that they have, at least in part.

The study, published in the Economics of Education Review, looked at the relationship between tuition and government funding levels since 1987, taking into account factors such as increases in fee revenue and state controls on tuition. It found that schools do pass along 25.7% of cutbacks to students in the form of tuition increases.

“In other words, for every $1,000 cut from per-student state and local appropriations, the average student can be expected to pay $257 more per year in tuition and fees,” explained the Inside Higher Ed report.

That’s an average over three decades; the amount shouldered by students in recent years has been even higher, about $318. Institutions with graduate programs tended to raise tuition more than schools offering only bachelor’s or associate degrees.

“The fact that this has been increasing says to me that in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there probably was a lot more fat in the budget,” said the lead researcher in the study. “And so, when states would divest, it was a lot easier for schools to cut things. Whereas now, the low-hanging fruit is diminishing. We’re having to make tougher decisions, and we’re having to pass more of these costs on to students because there’s not some obvious spending that we can cut.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Make Makerspaces Accessible

Advances in 3-D printing have lowered the cost while boosting ease of use, allowing makerspaces to crop up throughout the K-12 landscape, at libraries, and on more and more college and university campuses.

In these collaborative spaces, students, faculty, and community members can get hands-on experience in design, problem-solving, and turning concepts into physical products. All of that dovetails with calls for greater entrepreneurialism and more interdisciplinary cooperation, and for schools to teach more skills immediately useful in the modern workplace.

Any institution or group that has such a space or is considering creation of one needs to remember to design for access by individuals representing a wide range of ages, abilities, languages, and learning styles, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and contribute. Faculty and students at the College of Engineering and DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington, Seattle, have created a set of guidelines governing accessibility and universal design for makerspaces.

Friday, July 21, 2017

MS Plans to Connect Rural America

More than 23 million people in rural America, including college students, have no broadband access. Microsoft plans to change that.

The company announced an initiative to connect two million rural Americans over the next five years by using a cheap technology on the wireless spectrum known as TV white spaces to transmit broadband data. Microsoft also asked the Federal Communications Commission to keep the spectrum available and to collect data on rural broadband coverage to help policymakers and companies provide Internet access.

The initiative probably won’t produce impressive financial results, but it is politically savvy.

“[President] Trump on the campaign trail used rhetoric to speak and resonate with those voters, in these sort of left-behind economies as we talk about them,” Seth McKee, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, told National Public Radio. McKee added that building a digital infrastructure should get backing from both parties.

“They would be a first mover,” McKee said of Microsoft. “If they were the first ones to really go in this area and actually show some willingness to put some skin in the game, that could go a long way in terms of politicians taking notice and further bankrolling this sort of thing.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Tools Foil Fraud on Online Exams

When a college student takes an online exam for an online course, who’s really sitting in the test-taker’s seat—the student who enrolled or someone else?

Potential cheating has always been a concern for online college courses. New analytical tools, according to a report in EdTech magazine, are helping institutions ensure that the person who gets credit for the course actually does the work.

By analyzing how thousands of honest students fill out an examination form, researchers can determine if a dishonest student is trying to cheat or obtained access to test questions in advance.

Other schools are attempting to prevent cheating with online proctoring services. Students must take the exam from a computer with a webcam that keeps an eye on their work during the test. In case a student is tempted to substitute an impersonator, figuring the school won’t know the difference, some services verify the person’s identity with scanned photos.

On the positive side, proctoring services also enable “the university to offer students more flexible test times, an important factor for some nontraditional students,” said the report.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The BYOD Approach Comes of Age

While quite a few K-12 school districts now have 1:1 programs to provide a Chromebook or other digital device to every student for classwork, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) programs have found favor in many other districts for combining that same sort of access with lower expenditures and fewer technical hassles.

Initial concerns that students would use their devices to play games, watch cat videos, or access social media during school have been dispelled by strict use policies, detailed communication with parents and families, and efforts to instruct children on responsible behavior both online and in the classroom.

Although there is usually flexibility to allow students to use a device with which they’re most comfortable, in some districts smartphones are not among the permitted devices. The preference is for something with a screen large enough for students to write and create diagrams. If a child doesn’t have an appropriate device of their own—or doesn’t want to bring it to school—they may be given access to a district-supplied Chromebook or tablet.

“We recognize that students are living in a digital age, and BYOD helps students establish the foundations of digital citizenship,” Superintendent Robert Shaps, of Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Westchester County, NY, told the Associated Press.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Concerns about Personalized Learning

Many have jumped on the personalized-learning bandwagon because of its potential to tailor instruction to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. While the promise—and substantial funding from groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is there, the results aren’t quite livingup to the hype.

A recent RAND Corp. study of 40 K-12 schools found that customized instruction does produce gains in test scores in math and reading, but those gains were just 3% better than average scores in a more traditional school setting. The study also noted students in personalized-learning schools who started the year academically behind did slightly better than their counterparts in traditional programs.

However, there are challenges. Finding time to develop customized lessons for each student was the most significant issue for instructors, who also had trouble finding high-quality digital resources.

“There’s a growing acknowledgement of the reality of how personalized learning actually plays out,” said Benjamin Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on teacher preparation. “Even if it were a good idea, developing a personalized-learning path for every student, in a system that has to educate tens of millions of children, might not be realistic.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Foreign Students May or May Not Show Up

In a few more weeks, U.S. colleges and universities will learn which recent report is the most accurate in predicting whether international students will still enroll in American schools this fall. Some institutions’ budgets depend on the full tuition these students typically pay.

As a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education noted, three different studies drew somewhat different conclusions about the intentions of foreign students this year. While one study estimated foreign enrollment might even exceed original projections, two others saw signs of an impending drop in international students.

The uncertainty over the proposed travel ban is expected to have an impact, but The Chronicle noted some institutions “adjusted their recruitment and admissions strategies in order to head off potential declines.” As a result, these schools received a positive response from foreign students and anticipated relatively normal enrollment.

However, two groups of overseas students might be more likely to stay away from American colleges and universities. Students from India, which make up 15% of foreign enrollment in the U.S., are showing increased interest in Canadian schools and fewer are requesting information about U.S. institutions.

The other group are master’s degree students. Unlike students in bachelor or doctoral programs, “students who pursue a master’s … often are taking time out of careers to earn an advanced career,” said The Chronicle. “Delaying a year while the travel-ban dust settles may be the easiest for this group.”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Public Ed Asset Used for Private Gain

At a time when the Census Bureau reports a quarter of U.S. households are without Internet access, critics contend that a federal program to shrink that gap is broken, with much of its revenues enriching nonprofits and commercial operators while many low-income and rural students are left still bereft of needed access.

The Educational Broadband Service (EBS) grants school districts and educational nonprofits free licenses allowing them to use a portion of spectrum—the range of frequencies that carry radio and the mobile Internet—to offer instructional services using low-power broadband and high-speed Internet access.

EBS traces its origins to a post-Sputnik push in the 1960s to modernize American education, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allotting a section of spectrum to encourage teaching by television. Since then, the government has given away thousands of licenses. When spectrum use officially shifted from TV to the Internet in 2004, the value of those licenses suddenly shot through the roof.

One observer told The Hechinger Report that “licensees got blindsided by a bunch of money,” with commercial operators offering cash payments running from tens of thousands of dollars up to millions to lease spectrum in a major metropolitan area. Many license-holders chose to lease up to 95% of their spectrum instead of using it for public purposes. It’s estimated that about 90% of the approximately 2,400 EBS licenses have been at least partially leased, many of them for 30 years.

The majority of EBS licensees have just one or two licenses, but over the years a handful of nonprofits have accumulated a national network of 50 or more spectrum licenses.

“Think about the amount of pure lease payments they receive for this public asset that they don’t own, which they’ve been given to steward,” said Zach Leverenz, founder of EveryoneOn, a nonprofit whose aim is to eliminate the digital divide.

While a fraction of those big nonprofits’ revenue from leased spectrum does support providing students, seniors, and other groups with broadband access, reviews of tax disclosures show that in at least one case, about three-quarters of those revenues were instead directed into savings and investments.

Leverenz has called for greater accountability and transparency for the program, but the FCC has demurred from making any changes, stating that the best course is to continue relying on “the good-faith efforts of EBS licensees.” 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Quality Matters to Online Students

Quality tops convenience for most online college students, according to a survey of 1,500 former, current, and prospective students. However, Online College Students 2017 also found that most of these students still live near the institution where they take classes.

The study noted that while students usually stay close to home, just over half requested information from three or more schools, a 23% increase over the 2016 survey. The number of students who considered only one school fell from 30% to 18%.

In addition, most students (59%) said they would change some part of their search for an online program and 23% of current and past students said they wish they had contacted more schools.

More than half of the respondents said they would take a course in person if it wasn’t available online. Nearly 60% said they traveled to campus at least once a year to meet with instructors or a study group and about three-quarters said they liked virtual office hours for teachers. About a quarter of the respondents said more engagement with classmates and instructors would improve online courses.

The study also reported that 81% of online students use their mobile device to search for a program. Nearly 70% said they use their devices to complete their studies.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Take-Home Devices vs. ‘Summer Slide’

More school districts are allowing students to take home school-issued devices over the summer break to reduce learning losses known as the “summer slide.”

There is no research yet to back the success of the practice, but educators say they hope that letting students use school laptops or tablets to extend learning through the summer will bridge the gap between haves and have-nots by providing access to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

“Summer is the most unequal time in America,” Matthew Boulay, interim CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, told NPR. “I think we tend to have this idyllic view of what childhood summers are, but the reality is that for kids living in poverty, summer can be a time of isolation and hunger.”

There are, however, observers concerned that districts need to supply parents with instructions on proper device use at home so the technology isn’t wasted on games rather than educational content and so it doesn’t pull kids away from family activities during the summer.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Enjoy the Fourth!

From all of the NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin and Westlake, as well as the staff in California and Washington, D.C., have a safe and happy Fourth of July.

Friday, June 30, 2017

New Standards Rate E-Books’ Accessibility

Benetech, a nonprofit social enterprise that focuses on scalable technology solutions to improve accessibility and human rights, has rolled out a third-party verification program that lets schools and colleges determine how well e-textbooks meet the needs of visually impaired or dyslexic students or those with other print disabilities.

Called Global Certified Accessible (GCA), the program was developed in conjunction with the U.K.’s Royal Institute for the Blind, Vision Australia, and Dedicon, a Dutch creator of accessibility products and services, and underwent a six-month pilot. GCA is a standardized ratings system for evaluating digital titles based on more than 100 accessibility features. It can be used by publishers as well as school districts and higher-ed institutions, and recommends remediation where content falls short of its standards.

“We find that files improve significantly after first-round reviews and that subsequent files reflect the insights gained from our feedback,” said a Benetech release.

Accessibility is a key issue for schools, both to serve students better and to avoid legal action for falling short. A Blackboard study earlier this year indicated that the average overall accessibility score for college and university campuses hasn’t improved greatly over the past five years, inching up from 27.5% to just 30.6%.

On the publishing side, Ingram Content Group will incorporate GCA into its VitalSource and CoreSource platforms. Elsevier, HarperCollins, Harvard Business Publishing, Macmillan Learning, and Penguin Random House are among GCA’s other early supporters, although the system is now open to all publishers.

“Every publisher should strive to make their content as accessible as possible,” Denis Saulnier, managing director of product design and delivery, higher education, for Harvard Business Publishing, said in a Benetech blog post. “The first step is getting an accurate snapshot of compliance. Benetech’s process is invaluable in identifying areas of improvement and helping to prioritize work.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tool Brings Gaming into the Classroom

“Gameful” instruction allows students to choose assignments they think are challenging and uses software to guide them through those choices. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, recently launched a tool to make that learning approach available in the classroom.

GradeCraft employs competitive leaderboards, badges, and links to unlock information to help students work their way through the coursework. The web application also allows instructors to create course shells in the learning management system (LMS) where students are encouraged to try new things, as well as receive analytics about their progress.

“Everyone starts at zero and then they build toward mastery of the course material,” Barry Fishman, a U-M professor who helped developed the tool, said in a university release. “We get questions about how rigorous a course is given how many students earn high grades, but we consistently hear instructors describe their students doing creative and high-quality work. When you design these environments properly, you can create an incredible learning experience for students.”

The tool, developed in 2012, was made available to all U-M faculty through its LMS earlier this year. Some parts of the gameful learning software are now being used in 58 courses, serving more than 10,000 U-M students. A site license has also been purchased by the University of Arizona.

“We believe gameful is a great way to reconnect students to learning and we’re excited to bring it to a larger audience,” Fishman said.

Monday, June 26, 2017

OER Project Takes Off at Community Colleges

After its first year, Achieving the Dream’s Open Educational Resource (OER) Degree Initiative appears to be on track for success, according to the 38 community colleges taking part in the project.

The initiative intended to boost the use of OER for community-college courses as a means to reduce the cost for students. A new report released by Achieving the Dream said that “faculty at colleges participating in ATD's OER Degree Initiative are changing their teaching and that students are at least as or more engaged using OER courses than students in non-OER classrooms.”

The report estimated students saved an average of $134 on textbooks per course, although it also noted a more in-depth study was underway to determine true savings “given that not all students purchase textbooks at full price, and some OER savings may be offset by other costs.”

Among the strategies deployed by the initiative was targeting faculty who had experience using digital resources as part of online or hybrid courses and encouraging them to build on that experience in developing and selecting course materials for regular classes. The quality of the materials was the main factor for faculty; cost to students ranked second.

The report also outlined a number of “key actions” to increase faculty use of OER materials, including providing more training and support, better communication of the initiative’s long-term goals, enabling faculty to work together on OER materials to save time, offering incentives, getting noninstructional staff to assist with OER, and “getting students involved in evangelization.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

MOOC Less Stressful to MIT Students

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, departed from its normal practice of marketing massive open online courses (MOOCs) to the public by offering a popular circuits and electronics class to its on-campus students for credit. A study of that pilot program found students who took the class online not only liked the flexibility, but also reported feeling less stress.

MIT launched the pilot to address student concerns over scheduling conflicts. The results have MIT administrators considering more ways to create flexible learning environments for students and professors.

“As you can imagine, MIT students are a very active bunch,” Sheryl Barnes, director of digital learning in residential education, told Insider Higher Ed. “And they expressed frustration they couldn’t resolve scheduling conflicts by having more flexibility.”

There were differences between the MOOC version of the class and the traditional course. MOOC homework and final exam allowed for multiple tries at answers, but provided no partial credit. MOOC students weren’t able to review their graded exam to find out which answers they got wrong, but were provided instant online feedback on homework.

“On the open courseware version of the class, they have lecture slides for each topic that also almost match identically in order of topic,” one student said in the report. “And so I’d just read through all those lecture slides, which were similar, but it was just a little cleaner and a little easier to go through. And they had nice summaries at the beginning of each lecture, like a review of what was covered in the previous set, so I went through those, and then I’d go to the homework, and then while doing the homework, as needed, I’d go back to the videos and watch to listen and review over anything that I didn’t get.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gen Z Blurs Line Between Web and Physical

Generation Z’s first college graduating class has already made its mark on the world by being the first “phigital” generation—a term coined to indicate these young adults (born 1995-2012) don’t separate online from offline. It’s all one experience to them.

In an article for eSchool News, writer Meris Stansbury noted how “phigital” students are reshaping higher education. For one, this group has had access to information via the Internet their entire lives, mostly through mobile devices.

“For higher education, it’s never been more important to allow prospective students to explore their potential institutions via mobile and online methods,” Stansbury wrote.

Because of their exposure to digital technologies, Gen Z seeks more personalization, customization, and individual options when it comes to their studies. While millennials typically liked to tackle class projects in groups, Gen Z students prefer independent work in order to pursue their own goals.

As part of that, Gen Z also expects coursework to provide some sort of real-life connection, such as supporting social causes or honing skills directly related to jobs after graduation.

“In higher education, many colleges and universities have begun tailoring courses, like journalism, to the real world by harnessing ed-tech to mirror current job expectations,” Stansbury wrote. “They’ve also started creating entirely new programs to address current student and job market interests.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

A High-Tech Helper for Students with ASD

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have difficulty with basic social interactions, such as making eye contact, saying hello, or even deciphering what a smile or frown means. But thanks to a Dallas-based company, they can now add another member to their team at school who can help them learn, understand, and practice appropriate social behavior and build confidence in their skills. His name is Milo and he’s two feet tall with spiky brown hair and a superhero-style uniform.

He’s also a robot.

Milo’s face is covered with Frubber, a soft synthetic skin that’s pliant enough to replicate human expressions. Two versions are available: a walking, gesturing Milo and a less-expensive model with the same expressive head but a static body. Created by RoboKind, Milo models facial expressions, speaks—slowly, to help students process what he’s saying more easily—and displays symbols on a chest screen with cues from a tablet-equipped educator who lets Milo know when a child has responded correctly.

Since last fall, RoboKind has been partnering with the Autism Society of America on Robots4Autism, a nationwide school grant program to integrate curriculum delivered by Milo for children ages 5-17. The grants allow interested schools to complete the purchase of their own Milo.

It’s recommended that children spend 30-60 minutes with Milo and an instructor or therapist at least three times per week. One of Milo’s big advantages is that he can teach the same skills over and over with the positive consistency that autistic children need. He never gets tired or frustrated or impatient.

RoboKind has also brought out Robots4STEM, a K-12 curriculum to teach the basics of robotics and coding using Milo’s robot sibling, Jett, and the JettLingo visual programming language.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Higher Ed Embracing Badges

Even though most employers continue to require new hires to have college degrees, diplomas are not always the best way to show that employees have the skills needed to do the job. That’s where digital badges are coming into play.

“The bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. will never go away,” Philip DiSalvio, dean of the College of Advancing and Professional Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said in an article for University Business. “But every higher-ed portfolio is going to have some form of alternative credential that will demonstrate a student’s competency in certain areas.”

Digital badges, available for everything from problem-solving to career readiness, can be posted to social media sites, stored in digital portfolios, and displayed on specially designed platforms. The badges are linked to lists of skills students have mastered, in addition to the grades they’ve received.

Colleges and universities are trying to stay ahead of the curve on badges by developing programs that recognize skills students have acquired through their studies. Badges can connect skills needed in the workforce to what a college teaches, as well as provide a clearer picture of a student’s academic record.

“The reason they’re taking off in higher education is most employers are not getting the information they need about people emerging from higher ed,” said Jonathan Finkelstein, found and CEO of the badging platform Credly. “The degree itself doesn’t get to the level of describing particular competencies.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tech Makes Studying Easier

Technology helps improve grades and makes it possible to study from anywhere, according to students who responded to a 2016 survey from McGraw-Hill Education. The report noted 74% said they preferred to study at home, while 82% claimed digital tools helped them spend more time studying.

The research found that more than 90% of students use laptops and 60% make use of their smartphone to study. More than half said digital learning technology saved them time, better prepared them for class, and gave them more confidence in their knowledge of the course materials.

“College students enjoy and regularly use digital learning technology,” the authors of the report wrote. “Overall, college students agree that digital learning technology is helpful across a wide variety of activities, including doing homework, preparing for exams, and doing research.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

Competitors’ Data Keep Students on Track

College and university administrators are increasingly using data not only from their own institutions but also from other, potentially competing, schools to predict when their students might require an academic intervention.

Observing and understanding data on common factors that impact student retention and success—such as feeling isolated or overwhelmed, selecting the wrong classes, or being unable to afford the next semester—enhances administrators’ ability to proactively identify which students need help. For example, using predictive-analysis processes developed by the University of Texas at Austin, administrators at the University of Kansas discovered that 1,200 out of 1,500 students having difficulties on their campus hadn’t received any kind of intervention.

Both schools are part of the three-year-old University Innovation Alliance, a consortium of 11 research universities dedicated to raising undergraduate graduation rates. Since the group’s founding, its member universities have managed to increase the number of degrees awarded by 10%, with a 25% bump among Pell Grant recipients.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Higher Ed Needs to Keep Up with Tech

Higher education needs to develop new educational and training programs to keep pace with the technological changes that are reshaping the job market. Online learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will be part of those changes, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The poll of industry experts and higher-education thought leaders noted that online learning is a flexible format that can play an important role in training workers, but added that requires more “on-demand” training focused on lifelong learners.

“Most of what we now call online learning is little more than glorified textbooks, but the future is very promising,” said David Karger, a computer science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an article for EdTech. “Online teaching will increase the reach of top universities, which will put pressure on lesser universities to demonstrate value.”

Nearly 30% of respondents to the survey said that AI and machine learning will be disruptive forces, killing more jobs through automation than they create. While automation eliminates many jobs, online learning could be the format to provide training for more sophisticated job skills.

“People will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central,” Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, said in the Pew report. “It will undoubtedly play a greater role in the years ahead.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

First-Gen Profs to Inspire First-Gen Students

Many college campuses offer some type of academic and social support to students who are among the first in their families to enroll in higher education. The University of California is trying a different tack with a new program involving faculty.

The program, dubbed First-Gen Faculty, encourages professors who were first-generation students themselves to open up about their experiences with their classes. Those who sign up to participate will wear special shirts or buttons during the first week of school next fall so students can identify them.

According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, an estimated 800 faculty from nine campuses are expected to take part. About 42% of UC students are the first in their families to enroll in a four-year school.

“The idea is that first-generation students can seek out professors with similar experiences as role models or mentors,” the report explained. “Faculty members can share advice and alert students to essential campus services.”

The program will also provide training about first-generation issues to UC faculty and staff.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Clickers Can Impair Deeper Thinking

A new study in the journal Computers & Education claims that while classroom response clickers are effective for helping students with rote learning, the devices can actually impair their ability to understand more conceptual information.

The results were most striking when fact-based questions answered with clickers were followed by big-picture conceptual questions. Lead author Amy M. Shapiro, interim associate dean of graduate studies and research, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said that the factual questions appeared to shift students into a “hyperfocus” on factual knowledge that made grasping the deeper concepts that followed more difficult.

“While many published reports indicate the technology can substantially benefit learners, we found that clicker effects are somewhat more complicated than previously reported,” the study said. “The technology’s use appears to interact strongly with overall pedagogy, resulting in different outcomes for students enrolled in large, lecture-based courses than for those in smaller, problem-oriented courses.”

The study, whose results are so far unique, doesn’t recommend that educators delete clickers from their toolbox, but it does suggest limits to the devices’ efficacy in certain types of courses and that instructors may need to consider changes in how they’re used.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Apple Has Big Plans for New AI Chip

While Siri gave Apple an early lead in voice-recognition technology, the competition answered with artificial intelligence (AI) devices, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Reports now suggest that Apple is working on a new AI-enabled processor of its own.

“Two of the areas that Apple is betting its future on require AI,” said Gene Munster, former Apple analyst and co-founder of the venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. “At the core of augmented reality and self-driving cars is artificial intelligence.”

The new chip will be a dedicated module designed to control AI functions while providing battery performance, according to a Bloomberg report. Currently, Apple products use their main processor and graphics chips to handle AI processes.

The new AI chip is reportedly designed to handle functions such as facial recognition in the photos application, some speech recognition, and the iPhone’s predictive keyboard. Developers will also have access to the chip to develop apps that can handle AI-related tasks.

Apple has been designing in-house processors since it created the A4 chip in 2010 for the iPhone and iPad. It has also released dedicated processors for the Apple Watch, the wireless component for its AirPods, and the fingerprint scanner for its MacBook Pro.

The new AI chip has been tested in prototypes of the iPhone, but there’s no word that it will be included in the next generation of the device. Apple will introduce the iOS 11 operating system for iPhones and iPads at its annual developers conference later this month, as well as discuss its updates to laptops, which include faster processing chips.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Future Higher Ed to Mix in Worker Training

Earning a degree in a major field of study may not be sufficient to qualify new graduates for good jobs in the future. Most likely, according to the results of a new survey, students will need to take a blend of educational programs to prepare them for employment as well as lifelong learning.

The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center and Elon University, asked 1,400 experts in higher education, research, government, and technology fields about the type of education that will be developed to properly train a massive workforce in the next decade.

More than 70% agreed new forms of education would probably emerge to teach the required skills. That wouldn’t spell the end of traditional higher education, but students would supplement their regular courses with more hands-on training and online content aimed at honing specific skill sets.

“Plenty of respondents foresee potential for alternate credentialing systems,” noted a summary of the survey in Campus Technology.

The survey also identified a number of impediments to shifting to such a scenario, including lack of funding, reluctance of leaders to institute change, pushback from current workers who need retraining or updated skills, and ongoing difficulties in teaching competence in soft skills.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Remember on Memorial Day

The NACS Inc. staff in Oberlin and the PartnerShip staff in Westlake, along with our colleagues around the nation and Canada, salute all veterans this Memorial Day.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Virtual-Reality Tech Keeps Getting Better

Gaming and educational applications are expected to increase the use of virtual-reality (VR) devices by 85% over the next five years, according to a report from technology market intelligence firm ABI Research.  The market for those devices is changing, with technology such as headsets and 365-degree cameras becoming more affordable and effective.

“Education is on the cusp of a profound change in the way we use VR technology,” said Emory Craig, director of e-learning at the College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY. “People are starting to use it in higher ed even though the tech is very fluid at the moment.”

Headsets for high-quality equipment can cost close to $2,000 per setup, but technology firms are developing devices that work with lower-end desktop computers for the more affordable price of $299. Newer 365-degree cameras have more user-friendly features, making it easier to introduce video content into course materials. VR hand controllers are also improving to provide full-motion interactive experiences.

Content developers are experimenting with new ways to create virtual medical simulations, as well as creating applications that allow users to manipulate VR content. At the same time, Facebook is working on ways for users to connect and collaborate virtually.

“We can expect to see certain trends in VR to move forward, while others will disappear,” said Maya Georgieva, tech strategist and co-founder of the consulting group Digital Bodies. “As devices continue to shrink, we will see the development of augmented- and mixed-reality experiences that will power compelling visualizations, immersive storytelling, gamified simulations, and learning experiences.”