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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 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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Immersive Tech Nears a Tipping Point

Higher education is closing in on a tipping point for immersive learning, according to Marci Powell, chair emerita and former president of the United States Distance Learning Association. Immersive includes 3-D, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), which refers to a hybrid environment where physical and digital entities interact in real time.

For Campus Technology’s midpoint check-in on the year’s ed-tech trends, Powell noted that the prices for virtual-reality headsets are heading sharply down as new models continue to roll out, and AR- and VR-ready laptops are negating the need for expensive hardware and servers to support VR. She added that the growing number of VR lesson plans available makes assembling a curriculum with the technology faster and easier.

However, since have/have-not gaps haven’t yet been fully bridged for such comparatively common needs as smartphones and broadband access, the market is still far from a point where all students can use more advanced immersive tech at home or in the classroom. Institutions should be working now to ensure they’re able to provide such access as the technology becomes more mainstream.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Study Takes a Closer Look at Alternative Ed

Educational programs providing students with ways to acquire practical job skills are often praised as a shorter and cheaper alternative to traditional college. However, new research has shown that it’s not quite that simple.

The report The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways, a study conducted by Ithaka S+R for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, found the earning power of the different programs varies widely and depends on the subject studied. For instance, a person who has a computer-science certificate can expect to earn twice as someone holding much as a health-care or cosmetology certificate.

The study also found that certificate programs, work-based training, and competency-based programs tend to attract older, lower-income students who have not completed a college degree. At the same time, 80% of IT bootcamp participants and 75% of those enrolled in massive open online courses already have a bachelor’s degree.

Researchers found little evidence to determine how effective the many programs are, along with wide variation in their quality. They recommend more data be collected and studied on educational and employment outcomes so better quality-assurance standards can be developed.

“We quickly learned that while there’s some piecemeal information, there really hasn’t been this kind of landscape review before,” said Martin Kurzweil, director of the educational transformation program at Ithaka S+R, the firm that conducted the study. “That’s surprising, because there’s millions of Americans engaged in this kind of postsecondary education.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Report: When Funding's Cut, Tuition Jumps

For some years there has been disagreement over whether reductions in state and federal funding have been responsible for rises in college and university tuition rates. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, a new research study concludes that they have, at least in part.

The study, published in the Economics of Education Review, looked at the relationship between tuition and government funding levels since 1987, taking into account factors such as increases in fee revenue and state controls on tuition. It found that schools do pass along 25.7% of cutbacks to students in the form of tuition increases.

“In other words, for every $1,000 cut from per-student state and local appropriations, the average student can be expected to pay $257 more per year in tuition and fees,” explained the Inside Higher Ed report.

That’s an average over three decades; the amount shouldered by students in recent years has been even higher, about $318. Institutions with graduate programs tended to raise tuition more than schools offering only bachelor’s or associate degrees.

“The fact that this has been increasing says to me that in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there probably was a lot more fat in the budget,” said the lead researcher in the study. “And so, when states would divest, it was a lot easier for schools to cut things. Whereas now, the low-hanging fruit is diminishing. We’re having to make tougher decisions, and we’re having to pass more of these costs on to students because there’s not some obvious spending that we can cut.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Make Makerspaces Accessible

Advances in 3-D printing have lowered the cost while boosting ease of use, allowing makerspaces to crop up throughout the K-12 landscape, at libraries, and on more and more college and university campuses.

In these collaborative spaces, students, faculty, and community members can get hands-on experience in design, problem-solving, and turning concepts into physical products. All of that dovetails with calls for greater entrepreneurialism and more interdisciplinary cooperation, and for schools to teach more skills immediately useful in the modern workplace.

Any institution or group that has such a space or is considering creation of one needs to remember to design for access by individuals representing a wide range of ages, abilities, languages, and learning styles, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and contribute. Faculty and students at the College of Engineering and DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington, Seattle, have created a set of guidelines governing accessibility and universal design for makerspaces.

Friday, July 21, 2017

MS Plans to Connect Rural America

More than 23 million people in rural America, including college students, have no broadband access. Microsoft plans to change that.

The company announced an initiative to connect two million rural Americans over the next five years by using a cheap technology on the wireless spectrum known as TV white spaces to transmit broadband data. Microsoft also asked the Federal Communications Commission to keep the spectrum available and to collect data on rural broadband coverage to help policymakers and companies provide Internet access.

The initiative probably won’t produce impressive financial results, but it is politically savvy.

“[President] Trump on the campaign trail used rhetoric to speak and resonate with those voters, in these sort of left-behind economies as we talk about them,” Seth McKee, associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, told National Public Radio. McKee added that building a digital infrastructure should get backing from both parties.

“They would be a first mover,” McKee said of Microsoft. “If they were the first ones to really go in this area and actually show some willingness to put some skin in the game, that could go a long way in terms of politicians taking notice and further bankrolling this sort of thing.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Tools Foil Fraud on Online Exams

When a college student takes an online exam for an online course, who’s really sitting in the test-taker’s seat—the student who enrolled or someone else?

Potential cheating has always been a concern for online college courses. New analytical tools, according to a report in EdTech magazine, are helping institutions ensure that the person who gets credit for the course actually does the work.

By analyzing how thousands of honest students fill out an examination form, researchers can determine if a dishonest student is trying to cheat or obtained access to test questions in advance.

Other schools are attempting to prevent cheating with online proctoring services. Students must take the exam from a computer with a webcam that keeps an eye on their work during the test. In case a student is tempted to substitute an impersonator, figuring the school won’t know the difference, some services verify the person’s identity with scanned photos.

On the positive side, proctoring services also enable “the university to offer students more flexible test times, an important factor for some nontraditional students,” said the report.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The BYOD Approach Comes of Age

While quite a few K-12 school districts now have 1:1 programs to provide a Chromebook or other digital device to every student for classwork, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) programs have found favor in many other districts for combining that same sort of access with lower expenditures and fewer technical hassles.

Initial concerns that students would use their devices to play games, watch cat videos, or access social media during school have been dispelled by strict use policies, detailed communication with parents and families, and efforts to instruct children on responsible behavior both online and in the classroom.

Although there is usually flexibility to allow students to use a device with which they’re most comfortable, in some districts smartphones are not among the permitted devices. The preference is for something with a screen large enough for students to write and create diagrams. If a child doesn’t have an appropriate device of their own—or doesn’t want to bring it to school—they may be given access to a district-supplied Chromebook or tablet.

“We recognize that students are living in a digital age, and BYOD helps students establish the foundations of digital citizenship,” Superintendent Robert Shaps, of Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Westchester County, NY, told the Associated Press.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Concerns about Personalized Learning

Many have jumped on the personalized-learning bandwagon because of its potential to tailor instruction to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. While the promise—and substantial funding from groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is there, the results aren’t quite livingup to the hype.

A recent RAND Corp. study of 40 K-12 schools found that customized instruction does produce gains in test scores in math and reading, but those gains were just 3% better than average scores in a more traditional school setting. The study also noted students in personalized-learning schools who started the year academically behind did slightly better than their counterparts in traditional programs.

However, there are challenges. Finding time to develop customized lessons for each student was the most significant issue for instructors, who also had trouble finding high-quality digital resources.

“There’s a growing acknowledgement of the reality of how personalized learning actually plays out,” said Benjamin Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on teacher preparation. “Even if it were a good idea, developing a personalized-learning path for every student, in a system that has to educate tens of millions of children, might not be realistic.”