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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.


Monday, December 11, 2017

AI May Help Screen for Dyslexia

Despite all of technology’s advances and the many data dashboards available to track classroom performance, screening children for dyslexia is still typically conducted using paper tests, whose evaluation can fall prey to subjectivity on the part of teachers.

Lexplore, a Swedish company operating in the U.S. out of Naperville, IL, hopes to employ eye-tracking cameras on computers with artificial intelligence and special algorithms to identify more students with dyslexia who might be missed by the current outmoded, time-consuming method.

The company’s tools analyze patterns in how a subject’s eyes follow words in sequential or nonsequential order as they read. Those at high risk for dyslexia make more right-to-left movements—vs. the more normal left-to-right—and take fewer or no regular pauses during reading.

Although its tech and algorithms are new, Lexplore’s underlying ideas draw on research dating back for decades that indicates tracking eye movements is one of the best ways to gauge reading ability. A 2015 study built a statistical model using eye-tracking that could identify dyslexia with more than 80% accuracy.

Two of Lexplore’s co-founders published their own study in 2016 that claimed an even higher success rate of 95.3% using their own technology, which is now in use across the city of Stockholm’s municipal education board.

In the U.S., Lexplore is still fine-tuning its business model and has so far only been tested in a handful of private schools in the Atlanta area.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Arizona Creates New Learning Environment

A college classroom with the lecturer in front addressing students seated at rows of desks may no longer be the best way to deliver a quality education. In fact, research done at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point found the lecture model is outdated for the digital natives now on campus.

To address the issue, the University of Arizona, Tucson, began investigating evidence-based learning and launched a pilot that used objective data to design courses featuring shorter lectures and class activities. The next step was a collaborative learning space (CLS), a large room with portable furniture and tabletop whiteboards that allow students to interact easily with each other.

“Faculty across campus began seeking out opportunities to teach in our CLS,” Jane Hunter, director of academic resources and special projects, wrote in a column for eCampus News. “They tried new strategies they had never been able to successfully implement. They found new joy in teaching which, in turn, ignited students with a passion for learning.”

From that first CLS, the University of Arizona now has 20, ranging in size to accommodate from 24 to 264 students. The new rooms serve 210 faculty members from 60 departments.

“I am trying new ideas in the collaborative learning space that I have never tried in my 10 years of teaching. It has been fun for me,” said Richard Harper, who teaches in the School of Government and Public Policy at Arizona. “The classroom has become a ‘partner’ in the learning process.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CM-X Probes Strategies to Trim Textbook Cost

While the issue of higher education affordability simmers, some point to required course materials as a cost that could be reduced without undermining students’ learning. As the campus information hub for course materials, college bookstores must stay on top of new formats, programs, and practices.

The second Course Materials eXperience (CM-X) will help course materials specialists and store managers become knowledgeable about new developments and operational efficiencies to keep costs down for students. CM-X is a concentrated track within Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) hosted by NACS in Dallas, TX.

CM-X opens with a networking event on Friday evening, March 2, and then moves into a full day of educational presentations, roundtable discussions, and a working lunch. As a followup to last year’s CM-X publisher panel, a new group of executives from the major textbook publishers will offer their thoughts on how the industry is evolving. Other sessions will explore inclusive-access programs, open educational resources, hybrid course materials, and modernizing course materials management.

The program wraps up Sunday at the CAMEX trade show with more presentations in the Course Materials Theater, visits with suppliers of academic materials and technologies in the Course Materials Pavilion, and networking in the Course Materials Collaboration Lounge. CM-X registrants are welcome to return to the show on Monday and Tuesday.

CM-X registrants also have an opportunity to attend a bonus Friday session about course materials leadership on campus. Prior to CAMEX, a webinar exploring faculty and students perspectives on course materials will prepare registrants for the in-person event.

Visit Course Materials eXperience for program details and registration information. Register by Jan. 12 to receive early-bird discount pricing.

Friday, December 1, 2017

New Tech Lets Users Tap Out Messages

A new wearable gadget makes it possible for users to compose, edit, and send messages, texts, and emails by simply tapping their fingers. Tap is a one-handed device made up of five interconnected rings that converts any surface into a keyboard and works with smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, computers, or virtual-reality headsets.

It takes users about an hour to learn the basics through the TapGenius mobile app, according to manufacturer Tap Systems. It works with most Bluetooth-enabled devices and is usable for eight hours on a single charge.

“Tapping your fingers is much faster, more precise, and more rich in combinations than any gesture system that has ever been developed,” said Ran Poliakin, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Tap Systems. 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small Student Loans May Help, Not Harm

Are student loans a burden or a boost? The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) attempted to find out in a recent study.

The study, summarized in a report on MarketWatch, focused on the financial-aid notification letters sent to students at a community college. One randomly assigned group received letters that listed their eligibility for grant and scholarship aid, along with an offer to borrow $3,500-$4,500 in federally subsidized student loans. The other group’s financial-aid letters offered “$0” in federal loans.

Not surprisingly, students in the first group “were 40% more likely to borrow than their peers who received an offer of zero,” said the MarketWatch report. However, it also turned out that these borrowers enrolled in more course credits the following term, earned a higher grade-point average in those courses, and transferred at a higher rate to four-year institutions.

In short, the NBER study concluded, having access to federal loan funds enabled and motivated these students to make faster progress in their higher education. Students who had to rely on other means couldn’t afford to take as many classes and were less likely to complete their studies.

“The big takeaway from this paper is that restricting students’ access to federal student loans, either through making the process of getting the loans more complicated or more opaque or completely opting out of the federal loan program, can harm students’ attainment and potentially make them worse off,” said researcher Lesley Turner, an economics professor at the University of Maryland.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mobile May Replace Computers by 2020

Forty-two percent of Black Friday shoppers placed their orders via smartphone this year, while 49% used a laptop or desktop computer, according to Fortune magazine. That marks the first time computers accounted for less than half of all online orders made the day after Thanksgiving.

As mobile gains on the shopping front, the same is happening in the classroom. Although students still prefer laptops to mobile devices, that preference may tip in mobile’s favor in as little as three years if ownership trends and technological advances continue at their current pace, according to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

In 2010, 88% of U.S. adults aged 18-29 owned a computer, but that number had dropped to 78% by 2015. At the same time, smartphone ownership in that age group surged from zero in 2010 to 86% by 2015, and tablet ownership shot from 5% to 50% over the same period. As mobile devices become capable of doing more things that computers do, they are likely to supplant them as devices of choice.

The iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion chip is reportedly 120 times faster than the original iPhone chip, and by 2018, smartphones are forecast to be able to handle 4K streaming and virtual reality. Phones’ current shortcomings regarding connectivity and storage will diminish as tech advances, but some analysts believe that the digitally connected Internet of Things may ultimately replace both PCs/laptops and mobile devices.

In the meantime, expect to see mobile make significant inroads as classroom technology, which means school districts and higher-ed institutions need to ensure their resources are mobile-friendly. Educators may also need to modify their teaching methods, in some cases serving less as instructor and more as facilitator of students’ self-directed learning efforts.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Higher Ed Changing for Student Success

Colleges and universities often talk about student success as their core mission. A study from edtech provider Unit4 found nearly three quarters of institutions are making organizational changes to make student success happen.

The survey of 150 IT decision-makers found that 80% said they had invested in technology to support student success and 62% had recently overhauled their portals, self-service options, or apps to improve the student experience. One fifth of respondents said that more than half of their new technology was custom-built, while a little over 60% reported that less than half of their technology was custom-developed.

While strides are being made, use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, and mobile applications continues to lag behind other investments.

“The fact that today, over one in five of those we surveyed have not modernized their student mobile experience, and have no automation in their core systems to support early alerts for at-risk students is deeply concerning,” said Jami Morshed, global head of education at Unit4. “To truly close the student-college digital divide, organizations need to embrace digital transformation through integrated modern cloud applications that support a truly mobile strategy, delivering new services and value to students and faculty.”

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

The entire staff at NACS Inc. wishes you a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

K-12 Edtech Innovations Face Challenges

Many K-12 pupils are now accustomed to using their own computing device in school every day and more are learning from course materials created or customized by their teachers rather than standard textbooks.

Those are two of the edtech trends identified in EdSurge’s annual Edtech Outlook report on emerging innovations.

About 60% of K-12 kids now go to schools with a 1:1 ratio of pupils to devices, most often some sort of tablet or netbook. That has changed the mix of learning materials available to teachers, who no longer have to rely on traditional textbooks. In many cases, teachers are heading to online educational marketplaces to download free or low-cost materials to fit their particular lesson plans, instead of molding lessons around the textbook.

“[Publishers’] slow transition to digital has cost them significant market share as lower-cost, more nimble startups have undercut their performance,” said the report. Teachers are also turning to artificial-intelligence apps to complement classroom lessons and help provide better assessment of students’ skills.

However, Edtech Outlook noted another trend that’s preventing schools from capitalizing fully on digital technologies at this time: limited bandwidth. Only an estimated 15% of K-12 schools have sufficient bandwidth to allow classes to stream content on their devices.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Students Go Tech-Free for Class

At the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, students who enroll in a special course taught by Justin McDaniel, professor of religious studies, get to experience a taste of the monastic life, including a vow of silence. In what may be even more of a trial for digital natives, they also relinquish use of their phone, texts, Internet, computer, TV, and radio for a month.

Rather than phone-addicted students running the other way, the pool of applicants is larger than the class can accommodate.

The tech abstinence extends beyond just the course, which is called Living Deliberately: Monks, Saints, and the Contemplative Life. They aren’t supposed to speak to anyone, including family, classmates, or even professors teaching other classes (in the event of an emergency, they can speak to family members, police, or health-care workers). They can’t use the web or computers for other classes either, having to acquire printed copies of readings and use handwritten notes to communicate with instructors and workgroups.

Other aspects of the course include writing in a journal every 30 minutes as long as they’re awake and taking part in kindness projects on campus or in the community.

McDaniel told NPR that it was surprisingly easy for the students to go cold turkey on their electronics. “What is hard is a feeling that they are missing out on activities, chances to meet other people (in person), and loneliness,” he said. “They actually love not having the electronics.”

He added that very few students in the course try to sneak in tech use—and when they do he can usually spot it from their behavior and their journal entries.

As NPR noted, the course suggests that patterns of tech use, including addiction, may be shaped more by the communities of which we’re a part—in other words, by people—than by neural interactions with the technology itself.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Video's Impact on Higher Ed

Video technology is being used in 99% of higher-ed classrooms, which is leading to an increase in student achievement and engagement, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 educators, administrators, students, IT and media staff, and instructional designers.

The State of Video in Education 2017 found that 99% of institutions reported their instructors regularly incorporated video into their curriculum. More than 70% of the responding institutions said they used video technologies for remote learning and teaching.

The report also noted that 93% of respondents said they believed video increased student satisfaction and 85% reported an increase in student achievement. Another 70% said video increases a sense of affiliation with alumni and 78% added it makes onboarding new employees smoother.

Nearly half of the respondents said a video solution was integrated into their school’s learning management system and 15% use video tools built into the LMS. Ten percent said they had no video solution inside the LMS but that the institution was considering it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

11 Ways to Keep Low-Income Students in School

Low-income college students are far more likely to drop out than better-off students and lack of funds is usually the reason. A new report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation puts some of the blame on institutions for not providing sufficient information in clear terms about the total cost of attendance and how much financial aid students can expect.

Making College Affordable: Providing Low-Income Students with the Knowledge and Resources Needed to Pay for College lays out 11 recommended strategies for colleges and universities to help lower-income applicants better understand their options before they enroll and to assist them if they run into trouble later on.

No. 9 on the list calls on schools to “utilize low-cost textbooks,” noting that high course-materials expenses may “place a burden on students with unmet financial need.” The report points to open educational resources as a potential solution, although it acknowledges that “awareness of these alternative resources among faculty tends to be low.”

The report also endorses a five-pronged set of recommendations from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group for encouraging adoption of open materials on campus.

The first five strategies in the report advocate that institutions should furnish detailed, jargon-free information about the types of financial aid available, eligibility requirements for aid, total costs to attend for four years, and accurate estimates of living costs, and also urge students to meet with a financial adviser. Three strategies ask schools to prioritize need over merit in giving aid, commit to providing aid for all four years, and stop cutting institutional grants when students receive private scholarships.

The remaining two strategies recommend that schools set up programs to help students with financial emergencies and to find ways to integrate local social services with financial-aid programs.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Picturing a New Form of Literacy

Recorded human communication began with cave paintings and then grew into murals and hieroglyphs before developing into written alphabets. In some ways, digital technologies and social platforms are taking communication back toward its visual origins.

In a commentary in T.H.E. Journal earlier this year, Cathie Norris, a professor and chair in the School of Information at the University of North Texas, and Elliot Soloway, a professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, noted that K-12 students spend far more time with text-based materials in school and far more time with image-based materials outside the classroom.

With an average of about 2.5 billion daily Snaps on Snapchat, and more than 400 million daily users partaking of Instagram’s shared photos and videos, it’s no surprise that today’s digitally savvy students are gravitating toward “picting,” the use of images instead of words to convey information and ideas.

Picting is an emergent form of literacy, but not one that many schools are embracing. That presents a risk that students who aren’t able to access the same tools in the classroom that they do outside of it may see schoolwork as irrelevant to their lives.

The solution, of course, is not to supplant written communication with picting, but to make reading and writing as engaging as picting’s imagery, and to teach writing as a way to support and improve visual communication.

“Schools must teach written literary skills,” Soloway responded to comments on his and Norris’ post. “This is a teachable moment. Educators can use the Snapchat/Instagram story to help students craft good stories.”

A recent post on the EdSurge edtech news site offered suggestions for how to use Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and Seesaw, The Learning Journal, to help give students “ownership of their learning” and make the classroom more engaging for digital natives.

However, engagement can’t be the only metric. Because many complex ideas can’t be communicated with images alone, effective reading and writing skills remain paramount.

They’re also a necessity for full participation in society. As recently as just a century ago, illiteracy could prevent the poor from full participation in their rights as voters and citizens. In an age of “fake news” and calculated disinformation on social media, critical reading skills may be more crucial than ever.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pros and Cons of Inclusive Access

More colleges and universities are offering inclusive-access programs for course materials because they see the model as ensuring wins for many involved.

Students get their course materials at discounted prices on the first day of class, making instructors happy. Publishers are guaranteed 100% sell-through for offering significant discounts on the content, which provides institutions with a way to show they are keeping costs in check. There’s also a role for the campus store because they have established relationships with all the parties involved—faculty, publishers, and students—and have the means to handle the transactions.

However, not everyone sees it as the best or only option.

Proponents of open educational resources view inclusive access as a model that just replicates the same publishing structures that led to rising textbook prices in the first place. Some faculty members also see inclusive access as an academic-freedom issue, limiting their choices on content to just one publisher.

“I do think it is likely that traditionally published content will continue to be used at colleges and universities, although whether or not it is through inclusive access remains to be seen,” said Nicole Allen, director of open education for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. “Textbook publishers have been through many iterations of models for proprietary digital content—it is hard to know how long any one will last.”

The 2017 Textbook Affordability Conference is Nov. 10-12 at Georgia Tech. Updates from the conference will be posted on Twitter using the hashtag #TAC2017Ignite.