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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Poll Response Mixed on Higher Ed

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

MIT Students Hack Disability Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Banning Electronics Works in One OSU Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Study: Three-Year Degrees Need Work

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Google Tackles Digital Addiction, Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 11, 2018

Coding Boot-Camp Grads Finding Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Brown Programs Fill Gap for Books, Food

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Online Testing May Widen Achievement Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

Cutting-Edge Hackers Threaten Higher Ed

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

More Enrollees Are Just a Phone Call Away

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

U.S. Not Prepping Students for the AI Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Are There Better Ways to Subsidize Athletics?

The cost of higher education sometimes includes fees that pay for intercollegiate athletics. While sports are a valued part of campus life, what would students select if they were given the choice between sports and tuition discounts?

I have no idea, but I’ve been pondering this question as I consider the cost of running a sports program weighed against the cost of college to students,” John Warner wrote for a blog post for Inside Higher Ed. “Student-loan debt threatens the future prosperity of a significant proportion of college graduates—not to mention those who get loans, but don’t graduate—and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the potential for this to be a larger drag on the economic health of the nation.”

Based on data from USA Today, Warner postulated that erasing athletic subsidies could provide each student a discount of as much as $1,600 each year, decreasing their average student-loan debt by 25%. Research from the Urban Institute found that self-sustaining athletic programs would provide more than 680,000 Pell-equivalent scholarships.

One method that might work is through private donations and additional state funds. Clemson University used that combination to pay for its $55 million football facility, while the University of Alabama-Birmingham saved its football program through private donations.

“I like sports,” Warner continued. “I think schools would be diminished places without athletics, but when so many aspects of our public institutions are already impoverished, I believe we have to put every option on the table.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Four-Year Degrees at CCs Boost Numbers

One of the arguments against permitting community colleges from offering bachelor’s degrees has always been that doing so would just shift students away from existing four-year schools in the area. However, a new study shows the opposite.

According to a report on the Education Dive site, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) found an overall increase in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded after community colleges began such programs. The study focused primarily on Florida, which in 2014 gave its community colleges the green light for bachelor’s degrees. As a result, 24 of those campuses now have at least one bachelor’s program.

AERA determined that there wasn’t much negative impact on enrollment or graduation rates at the four-year institutions located in the vicinity of baccalaurate-degree community colleges. In fact, most of the public four-year schools even experienced a rise in graduation numbers, although private schools didn’t get a similar bump.

On the other hand, for-profit schools did see a drop in degree output, which correlated to the growth at the neighboring community colleges.

“Both [two-year and four-year] school types should look to leverage connections in degree access and industrial development to create pipelines where neither campus type is competing with another,” noted the Education Dive report.

Monday, April 23, 2018

OER Benefits Extend Beyond Price

As open education librarian at the City University of New York, Ann Fiddler and her colleagues have been working for the past year to help faculty members integrate open educational resources (OER) into their courses as part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $8 million budget investment to provide OER to students at the 21 campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the 64 campuses of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

In an opinion piece for the education website The 74 Million (a reference to the number of children in the U.S. under the age of 18), Fiddler noted that by this coming fall, CUNY students in high-enrollment classes should have saved $8.1 million through use of OER. However, she added that the impact of open content goes beyond dollars and cents, citing four other powerful effects:

1) Faculty members become reinvigorated about their vocation as they retool their courses for OER, sometimes involving their students in the creation of new learning materials.

2) With OER, all students, no matter their financial situation, have their course materials and are prepared to learn on the first day of class. Previously, because of high textbook prices, some students waited until several weeks into the term to buy some materials or skipped purchasing them entirely.

3) Evidence is beginning to mount that OER can improve student outcomes. Fiddler noted that in one CUNY math course, students using OER scored 10 points higher on the final exam and were three times as likely to pass the course as their counterparts using traditional print materials. While still early days, she said she expects further positive data as OER are expanded to more campuses and more classes.

4) OER foster collaboration, not only within systems and within states but across state borders. SUNY and CUNY are collaborating on the launch of Open NYS, a community to showcase and support use of OER for those just getting started. The group is already sharing best practices with officials in Maryland, while learning from early adopters such as California.