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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, 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.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Lots of Young Kids Are Tablet Owners

In 2011, only 1% of children younger than nine possessed a tablet device. Today, 42% of kids that age have a tablet of their own, according to research by Common Sense.

The amount of time youngsters spend on mobile devices has made a similar leap, noted a report on the research in eSchool News. They now average 48 minutes a day on mobile gadgets, compared to five minutes in 2011. Some 95% of their families also own at least one smartphone.

Another surprise in the research: Tablet ownership by young children is about the same regardless of household income. About 40% of kids from low-income families own a tablet, the same percentage as high-income families, with about 45% of children from middle-income households having one.

About 78% of all families with a child aged 0-8 have one or more tablets, a big jump from 8% in 2011. That figure includes devices owned by the kids as well as those owned by other household members or considered shared property.

It’s hard to tell what sort of impact this early tablet exposure will have on their education as they get older. However, Common Sense CEO and founder James P. Steyer cautioned, “If we want to ensure our kids develop well and are successful in life, we have to make sure they get the most out of tech while protecting them from potential risks—and that means paying close attention to the role media is playing in their lives.”

Monday, November 6, 2017

Students Want a Tech-Savvy Campus

Almost 90% of college students stated it’s important that the institutions to which they apply be technologically savvy, according to a survey of 1,000 students by educational software and services provider Ellucian Co.

However, the report also found that 58% of respondents said their college, of all the companies and organizations with which they’re involved, was furthest behind in providing a personalized digital experience. That sentiment was even stronger for students on two-year campuses (71%) than for their counterparts at four-year schools (53%).

The experience they’re looking for extends beyond edtech, with 97% adding that campus technologies to support them outside the classroom are equally important.

Almost all students (94%) said they believe that connecting with fellow students, faculty, course suggestions, deadline reminders, and event calendars based on their interests and academic performance would be conducive to fostering a greater emotional attachment to their institution. Such stronger connections could lead to higher retention, as well as increased likelihood of future giving as alumni.

Friday, November 3, 2017

24/7 Access to Profoundly Change Ed Model

“The digitization of society is inevitable,” physicist, futurist, and author Michio Kaku said in his opening keynote address at the 2017 Educause Annual Conference this week in Philadelphia, PA. He foresees a future in which digital connection will be so ubiquitous that it will vanish from our awareness, just as we take electricity for granted today.

“We won’t use the word ‘computer’ anymore,” said the professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. “We don’t say the word ‘electricity’ anymore, and yet electricity is everywhere and nowhere. That is the fate of the computer.”

Advances in virtual and augmented reality will blur distinctions between the physical and digital worlds. “In the future, you will blink and be online,” Kaku predicted. Humans will be able to essentially live and work at will in a cyber-environment. That shift will drive fundamental changes to education at all levels.

Kaku said such instant, seamless access to information will mean that instructors can emphasize concepts and principles, reducing the need to memorize facts and dates since such details will be immediately available in cyberspace.

Working in tandem with “robo-professors” powered by artificial intelligence, educators will transition to a role that involves more counseling and guidance to help students stay in school and succeed. “Professors will gradually change more and more into mentors,” Kaku said. “Mentoring cannot be done by a robot.”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Faculty View Online Courses More Favorably

As more college faculty get involved in developing and teaching online courses, they appear to be changing their views on the effectiveness of digital education compared to in-person classes, according to findings in a new survey.

The 2017 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, conducted by Inside Higher Ed with assistance from the Online Learning Consortium and Gallup, revealed a fairly big shift in faculty opinion on online classes. “While faculty members remain slightly more likely to disagree than to agree that online courses can achieve student outcomes that are as good as those of in-person courses, the proportion agreeing rose sharply this year, and the proportion strongly disagreeing dropped precipitously,” Inside Higher Ed reported.

About 42% of professors responding to the survey said they have taught at least one online course, up from 39% the previous year. However, more faculty at public institutions have conducted online classes than their counterparts at private schools (46% vs. 21%).

Of those instructors who have taught online, 71% indicated the experience had sharpened their teaching skills in general. Less than half, though, had received training in creating online courses and less than a third said their schools adequately acknowledge the effort that goes into online instruction.

While many institutions have pointed to cost savings as a major reason for offering online courses, most of the survey respondents didn’t see any reduction in cost and felt that administrators and technology vendors have exaggerated the potential savings. Most respondents also said their institutions didn’t share any data on student outcomes from their online courses.