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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.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New Year, New Talk on Personalized Education

The start of another academic year is prompting new discussion on personalized education and the role of technology in it.

An Associated Press article noted that “some form of personalized learning” has been incorporated into the curriculum at up to 10% of K-12 public schools in the U.S., a growing trend. However, the same article pointed out that a Rand Corp. study discovered personalized programs only improved students’ math scores by three percentage points, while reading skills showed no change.

At the same time, the article offered examples where personalized programs have made a difference. In one, students took computerized tests to assess their reading skills; poor readers were then assigned to use digital materials providing extra help with vocabulary. In another, teachers developed customized, self-paced learning plans to aid students with low math abilities.

An article in eSchool News explained how personalization is not the same as differentiation (teaching a group of similar students) or individualization (teaching geared to one student’s needs), although they’re related.

“Personalization is an incredibly powerful model because it creates a continual feedback loop between the teacher and student and empowers students to take charge of their education,” wrote Amanda Stedke. She emphasized that technology tools aren’t necessary for personalized learning but “recent advances in ed-tech have made these approaches significantly more scalable.”

Kenneth Klau, director of digital learning at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, shared similar views in an opinion piece onEdSurge, but stressed personalized learning should “address well-defined needs and achieve unambiguous goals.”

“When we hear about schools that are making the shift to personalized learning, we should not hesitate to ask why and what it will look like,” he wrote. “Otherwise, personalized learning becomes the answer in search of a question.”

Monday, August 28, 2017

Most Faculty Upbeat about EdTech

The majority of college and university faculty members feel positive about the impact of technology on education, with nearly three quarters saying it’s made their job “easier” or “much easier,” according to the results of Campus Technology’s second-annual Teaching with Technology Survey.

Even though that total remains high, it’s down four percentage points from the inaugural survey last year. The number of educators claiming tech has made their job more difficult remained consistent, but those who say it hasn’t affected them either way grew from 6% in 2016 to 10% this year.

Whatever its effect on their own work, more than 80% of faculty say they see technology having a positive impact on student learning, and about the same percentage view it having a “mostly positive” or “extremely positive” influence on higher education overall.

Individual respondents did point out that any classroom tech is only as good as the instructor using it and that faculty need to be provided the time to properly understand and adapt technology to their courses.

The complete results of the survey, which polled more than 230 faculty from across the country, are available in the July digital edition of Campus Technology.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Oregon Has to Cut Back on Tuition Promise

Adequate funding has always been an issue for the free community college tuition programs that some states are trying to implement. State lawmakers in Oregon knew their two-year appropriation of $40 million was $8 million short of projected costs, so that program was recently forced to tighten its income-related criteria and won’t be able to provide for every eligible student.

Despite the cutback, the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission has notified more than 8,000 students that they did qualify for the scholarship. The 6,800 students who received the award in the program’s first year will also receive all the money promised to them, regardless of their income.

“Most kids will still be able to get the scholarship,” said state Sen. Mark Hass, chief architect of the program. “It’s just upper-end families who won’t and, frankly, there aren’t too many of those at our community colleges anyway.”

Families that are able to contribute $18,000 or more for college based on information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form are being cut out of the program this year, which has generated some criticism. Hass expects that full eligibility will be restored next year.

The Oregon Promise was never meant to provide free tuition to everyone in the state. It doesn’t cover living expenses and only pays for tuition costs that remain after other need-based grants are used. However, the program does award a minimum of $1,000 to the poorest students to help defray costs such as fees, textbooks, and transportation.

“I don’t like that they’re getting slammed for it,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, Temple University professor and advocate for college accessibility who is the keynote speaker for the 2017 Textbook Affordability Conference Nov. 10-12, at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. “I think they’re being really careful with taxpayer dollars and I find that really respectable.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Low-Income Kids Face College-Entry Wall

High-schoolers from lower-income families are confronted with more barriers when it comes to getting into college than their better-off peers.

The Hechinger Report described several hurdles, including a recent College Board study that found grade-point averages (GPAs) at affluent suburban and private high schools had risen at the same time their students averaged lower scores on college admissions tests, strongly indicating grade inflation. GPAs at urban high schools, with a higher percentage of students in poverty, showed little change, though.

With more colleges and universities basing admissions decisions on GPAs instead of tests, grade inflation at wealthier schools puts low-income students at an immediate disadvantage in applying. “This is especially an issue for the big universities and colleges that can’t really dig into the context of a kid’s high school experience,” commented an official at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Urban high schools are also less likely to offer college-preparatory courses or have enough guidance counselors to help advise students on how to apply for college, according to The Hechinger Report.

Another recent study conducted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and summarized by Education Dive, revealed low-income students make up only a small percentage of enrollees at selective colleges. The study showed qualified students often didn’t even apply to these colleges because they had no information about financial-aid packages or funds to visit campuses first, among other problems.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Parent Groups Want Age Cap on Smartphones

A mom from Austin, TX, has created a “Wait Until 8th”pledge to encourage parents not to give their children smartphones until they’re in eighth grade or at least 14 years old. Brooke Shannon’s pledge asks that parents vow “not to give your child a smartphone until at least eighth grade as long as at least 10 other families from your child’s grade and school pledge as well.”

So far, more than 2,000 parents from 500-plus schools in 49 states have committed to the pledge.

Shannon acknowledges that the pledge may not be appropriate for families with children who need more advanced technology to help manage a medical condition, such as Type 1 diabetes.

For parents who need to be able to connect with their children, either for emergencies or for those involved in shared-custody arrangements, Shannon suggests a lower-tech option such as a basic flip phone.

There is a groundswell of similar movements around the U.S., such as Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS), a Colorado-based organization that wants to ban sales of cellphones to anyone under age 13. PAUS is working to gather signatures for a proposed ballot initiative that would require retailers to ask customers the age of the intended primary user for a cellphone. Merchants that repeatedly sell phones for use by preteens and younger children would be subject to government fines.

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.