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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, December 22, 2017

Higher-Ed Critics of Net Neutrality Repeal

While some in higher education argue that repeal of the 2015 “net neutrality” orders will have little effect on campus, nearly every major higher-ed organization came out against the move. It’s feared that education could become more expensive and have slower Internet access unless the institution has the means to pony up the additional fees Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now able to charge.

The old rules prevented ISPs from charging content producers and customers more for faster service. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), contended the rules also stifled innovation and the move was passed in a Dec. 14 vote.

Repealing the rules is intended to spur competition among ISPs, which could mean institutions will be able to pick and choose the best provider for the campus. It’s also possible that universities could face higher charges because of the broadband demands of virtual courses or cloud-based storage and services.

Rural campuses are concerned that they will not benefit from any competition since they rely on a single Internet provider. Colleges and universities are fearful that research projects could be moved to slower speeds if the institution is unwilling to pay more for faster service. And if costs go up for colleges, it will likely trickle down to student fees.

“The new FCC rules do not follow in the liberated direction imagined by the Internet’s inventors,” Robert Ubell, vice dean emeritus of online learning at the Tandon School of Engineering, New York University, wrote in a column for EdSurge. “With ISPs given the reckless authority to block and shut down sites, academic freedom is a potential target—along with other guarantees of equal access.”

Editor’s note: The CITE will be on hiatus as all NACS Inc. offices are closed Dec. 25-Jan. 1. Look for the next post to appear on Jan. 3, 2018. From all the staff of NACS Inc., have a safe and happy holiday season.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Freshmen Persisting to Graduation

A small but significant uptick in the number of U.S. college students attaining their degrees last spring is being hailed as a positive indicator for the national economy.

“For the more than 2.27 million students who started college six years ago, the signs of postrecession recovery are clear: adult students shrank as a share of the cohort, four-year public and private nonprofit institutions increased their share of the cohort, and the total completion rate surpassed the prerecession high,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center, in its annual report on enrollment and graduation patterns for each incoming class. A key benchmark is the graduation percentage after six years.

Approximately 56.9% of the fall 2011 freshmen had graduated as of 2017. That outpaces the six-year graduation mark for the 2010 freshman class (54.8%) and the 2007 freshman class (56.1%), which had previously been the highest to date.

Almost 12% of the 2011 starters are still taking courses and the report anticipates many of those students will achieve a degree within the next two years, based on the freshman class of 2009, which managed to raise its total completion rate this year by six percentage points over its six-year rate.

Four-year schools overall had higher completion rates than two-year schools (66.7% versus 37.7%), but a much higher percentage of students who enrolled first at two-year schools would go on to earn a degree or certificate within six years (37.7%, compared to 8% of students who began at a four-year institution).

Monday, December 18, 2017

Schools Might Sidestep Repeal's Impact

Before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Dec. 14 to repeal 2015’s “net neutrality” orders, some higher-education organizations, including the American Council on Education, expressed concern about the impact on online research and distance courses. They worried institutions might end up in the Internet slow lane if business interests priced faster service out of reach.

John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, a financial consulting firm for schools and libraries, told SmartBrief he thinks the repeal “is unlikely to have any significant impact on schools.” He conceded the repeal could affect web content aimed at consumers, but he noted that educational institutions typically don’t subscribe to those types of services (although students may do so).

If the repeal does spur more competition among Internet service providers, as some (including the FCC chairman) have predicted, Harrington said schools could take advantage of that to select a provider that will ensure speedy service for the campus, including online courses. The institution could even opt for faster service for learning content, and not-so-fast for less-critical content.

“This might give schools an opportunity to prioritize live Internet video feeds above emails and other web traffic that does not require real-time interaction,” he said.

Friday, December 15, 2017

More Support for Credentialing Proposed

Not everyone needs to attend college to achieve their career goals, but increased federal support of occupational credentialing could be a viable alternative to the idea of the “free” four-year degrees that has been making headlines, according to a report from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).

The report proposes making more federal support, such as Pell grants, available to students in credentialing programs. PPI suggests the move could provide workers with a debt-free path to the skills needed for economic security because many of the jobs that require a credential instead of a college degree can pay as much as $90,000 a year.

“The singleminded focus on college diminishes other equally viable paths to middle-class security—such as in health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and other skill professions—that require specialized occupational ‘credentials’ but no four-year degree,” Anne Kim, a senior fellow at PPI, wrote in the report.

Quality credentialing can also be an alternative for nontraditional students who have family and job obligations that make the commitment to full-time student status unrealistic. Credentialing courses often take just weeks or months to complete, helping workers who have been displaced get back into jobs and new careers.

The plan would extend student financial aid, including Pell grants, to high-quality credentialing programs and provide students with standardized information on the quality and value of credentialing options. The PPI plan would pay for the program through a new excise tax on elite university endowments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Scholarship Donors Push Student Loans Out

With all of the ongoing controversy over whether loans help or hurt students, Brown University has managed to raise enough donations to float its financial aid without asking students to borrow money for their education.

According to University Business, Brown just wrapped up a $30 million campaign to plump its scholarship funds. That money is intended to take the place of loans in aid extended to students enrolling next fall. Both returning undergraduates and first-years will benefit.

The campaign represented the latest phase of The Brown Promise, a program launched in 2003 to ensure a diverse body of applicants could actually afford to attend the university, regardless of their personal financial situation. Brown instituted a need-blind admission process, but did rely on loans to close the gap for some students.

As an article on Quartz notes, Brown isn’t the only institution to eliminate student loans from its financial-aid package but many of the others “have income cutoffs … meaning that poorer families get better deals than those with midrange incomes.” Brown’s program reaches middle-income students, who might be able to scrape the money together but at a considerable sacrifice.

Brown is gearing up to raise another $90 million to fully endow the program to keep it going. 

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.