Friday, June 29, 2012

Gates Talks About Transforming Higher Education

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards grants to individuals and groups committed to fixing “inefficiencies” in higher education rather than hoping for change by throwing new gadgets at the problem. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, talks about his vision for using technology to transform colleges and universities in these videos from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

On the role of business in higher education:

On tablets in the classroom: On MOOC’s:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Study Shows iPad Users Dominate Web Traffic

Pundits have generally been positive about the new Microsoft Surface, but a new report from the ad network firm Chitika says the Apple iPad is still the king of the hill by a wide margin when it comes to Internet traffic. The firm’s new study shows that 91% of media tablet web traffic comes from iPad users, although it dropped more than three percentage points from a similar study the firm conducted in May.

The data for the survey comes from impressions on the Chitika ad network from June 4-10, 2012. Because the Apple totals were so large, the firm compared other devices to 100 iPad impressions and found the Samsung Galaxy was a distant second at 1.94% of the web traffic. The Barnes & Noble Nook was fifth overall, accounting for 0.85% of the traffic, a performance that allowed it to move ahead of the Amazon Kindle Fire.

However, Chitika predicts the share of web traffic will continue to decline for Apple as more devices, such as the Surface, come to market, just as it did in the smartphone market.

“The Apple iPhone started out as a highly differentiated product, yet over time, its competitors such as Motorola and Samsung using the Android OS have begun to eat away at their market share,” the ad firm told The Mac Observer. “Even though (Apple) still remains dominant, the disparity is not the same as it used to be and we believe the tablet market will follow a similar trend.”

At the same time, the OnCampus Research study, Student Watch 2012: Student Attitudes and Perceptions, reports that just 17% of the students it has surveyed even own a dedicated e-reading device and that 62% say they have no plans to buy one any time soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Government Site Offers Open Courses, Too

University powerhouses Harvard and MIT stirred the educational pot recently with the announcement of edX, a collaboration offering online courses from both schools at no charge (and with no credit). But another open-source course site opened last week with a lot less fanfare.

After about a year of beta testing, the National Training and Education Resource(NTER) was launched by the U.S. Department of Energy to offer web-based, interactive courses, completely free. While individuals can go directly to the site to take the self-paced courses, schools and instructors are welcome to use entire courses or selected portions, either alone or in customized mixes with other educational content, again at no charge. NTER even provides free authoring tools to aid instructors.

Right now the 28 courses are mostly on topics related to weatherization and insulation installation, and are intended as either supplementary training for people already working in energy and construction, or for students hoping to enter those fields.

Clearly, NTER’s offerings are hardly on a par with MIT and Harvard, yet its focus on specific training—with 3-D simulations and built-in performance assessments—may provide a useful model for applied higher education. Ultimately, NTER officials envision thousands of free online courses on topics in science, mathematics, engineering, and manufacturing industries.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

College Stores Must Get Involved in the E-Text Conversation

Last January, an e-textbook  pilot program was launched on five university campuses aimed at providing each with ways to access digital course materials and negotiate volume pricing deals designed to reduce costs to students and pay authors and publishers fairly. That program is now being expanded to at least 25 additional schools for the fall 2012 semester.

Through the pilot, each institution subsidizes the cost of the digital course materials, which are provided to students at no cost, with a print-on-demand version available for a $28 fee. The participating courses use McGraw-Hill Education e-books and digital learning materials, along with the Courseload reader and annotation software.

The program has also, in some cases, excluded the college store from the textbook equation.

“When students don’t need to shop at our stores for their books, they certainly don’t need us for school supplies and other items,” wrote Jon Kates, executive director of the University of Virginia Bookstores and Cavalier Computers, in the For What It’s Worth column in the March/April 2012 edition of The College Store magazine.

UVA was one of the first schools to take part in the pilot and will continue to look at the program this fall, so Kates has had a firsthand look at the program. He’s also being proactive and listed in the column a variety of ways his store is working to remain relevant on campus.

“This program/model is really about institutional licensing,” said Mark Nelson, chief information officer of the NACS and vice president of NACS Media Solutions. “There are a lot of challenges and shortcomings of institutional licensing models, but unless stores understand those better, it will be difficult for the industry to speak with sufficient credibility on the topic. Stores should work to get involved.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Microsoft Surfaces with a New Tablet

Microsoft’s Surface tablet generated plenty of buzz, but it remains to be seen whether it will sink or swim. A good portion of the attention has centered on the Surface’s ability to compete with the Apple iPad. It seems as if every new device introduced is immediately proclaimed the iPad killer, and the new Microsoft gadget is no exception.

However, the Surface does appear to be a serious contender, with a neat smartcover that features a keyboard included in the purchase price. The device will also run the new Windows 8 operating system, which should attract many business clients already using the system in their office. In addition, the Surface has USB and micro-HDNI ports and a micro-SD card expansion slot, items critics have long wanted Apple to include.

The reviews have been generally positive, but questions remain. The tech press didn’t get a chance to test the new device and Microsoft was silent—perhaps intentionally so—on the availability of apps. The firm also failed to mention how much the Surface will cost, which is the biggest question yet to be answered.

In this video, Greg Harper, president and founder of Harpervision Associates Inc., talks to The Washington Post about how the Surface stacks up against the iPad.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chegg Spots a Need, Changes an Industry

Chegg, the Silicon Valley textbook rental company, started as an on-campus classified service listing everything from electronics to kung fu lessons to hamster sitting. But its most popular category was buying and selling textbooks.

The company founders noticed that and decided to try an experimental rental web site offering 2,000 textbooks to its users. It proved to be such a great success that now Chegg rents millions of textbooks each year and employs 150 people.

“We had raised $3 million and we had hired a great team and we were sitting on a problem that was still unsolved,” said founder Aayush Phumbhra in this FastCompany video series called “The Pivot” which looks at decisions that helped companies turn into successes. “The cost of textbooks was still very expensive and the market was just waiting to be disrupted.”

The message should be a powerful lesson for those in the textbook industry in general and collegiate retailers in particular, according to Mark Nelson, chief information officer of the National Association of College Stores and vice president of NACS Media Solutions.

“I think the idea behind how they recognized an opportunity and unmet need provides interesting insight into the minds of entrepreneurs and the types of folks who are trying to disrupt our industry,” he said. “Whether stores like it or not, our industry is viewed as one that is ‘ripe for disruption’ and we need to learn to think like these guys.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Competency-Based Degrees Come to UW

Competency-based degree programs have been the domain of schools such as Western Governors University and for-profit online institutions. Now, the University of Wisconsin has entered the arena, launching the UW Flexible Degree, becoming the first publicly funded college to offer students such a program.

“We know now which features and benefits many adult students want,” UW Chancellor Ray Cross told eCampus News. “Our goal is to address these needs in a new way, but we can only achieve that goal by efficiently leveraging all the UW System’s resources in a truly collaborative fashion.”

The online program will allow students to take classes at their own pace and save money by cutting down on the time it takes to earn a degree. The program will focus on health care, manufacturing and engineering, and information technology and systems and offer associate, bachelor, and master degrees.

Coursework and assessment is supervised by UW faculty and academic staff. Students are able to earn college credit for knowledge already gained through the workplace or life experiences.

“What we are saying is, ‘I don’t care where you learn it. Can you prove it?’” Cross said. The pricing model is still under review and could include a per-course charge or a flat fee for six months that would allow students to complete as many classes as they are able.

The competency-based model should also provide incentive for the nearly 20% of Wisconsin residents who already have some postsecondary course credit to return to school. It is aimed at nontraditional students and individuals who are working while attending classes.

In addition, the office of the governor of Wisconsin has provided an online pamphlet describing the program in more detail.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Survey Finds Tablet Users Buy Content

In the study A Portrait of Today’s Tablet Users—Wave II, the Online Publishers Association (OPA) found that adoption of the electronic gadgets in the United States is up from 2011, and still rising, and that the vast majority of people use the devices to access content and information.

The online survey from the OPA and Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. reached 2,540 individuals between the ages of 8 and 64 from March 19-26, 2012. It found that 67% of those surveyed used tablets to surf the web and 66% checked their e-mail. Other primary activities include watching videos (54%), getting weather information (49%), reading national news (37%), and viewing entertainment content (36%).

The report found that 74% of users use their tablets daily, with 60% using it several times each day. In addition, tablet users spend 13.9 hours per week on the device, 92% of video watched on a tablet involve news and entertainment clips, 23% of all tablet applications downloaded in the past year were paid apps, and that the tablet app market doubled in size from $1.4 billion in 2011 to an estimated $2.6 billion this year.

“The growing base of tablet users is also showing a healthy appetite for paid content with 61% having purchased tablet content in the past year,” said Pam Horan, president of the OPA. “Considering tablets have only been available for a little over two years, the findings of this study truly underscore the possibilities for publishers to grow their business as consumers are willing to open their wallets in order to have original content at their fingertips.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Course Materials on a 'Pay-for-Performance' Basis

Western Governors University (WGU), an accredited nonprofit online university, is partnering with McGraw-Hill Education on a new way to provide learning tools to its students on a “pay-for-performance” basis. The program makes both printed and digital course materials available to WGU students, while McGraw-Hill earns fees based on student performance in classes using its resources.

WGU students will be able to access e-books and learning tools for online courses using McGraw-Hill’s LearnSmart software. The university will pay a discounted flat fee for the materials used, along with a premium for each student using the material who earns a grade of “B” or better on WGU competency exams for the class. This program is different because it is not based on the number of students enrolled in a course.

“This partnership with McGraw-Hill Education is consistent with our goals—to find innovative ways to reduce the cost and improve the quality of higher education,” University President Robert Mendenhall said in a press release. “In addition, it helps support our objective of reinforcing accountability among our partners as well as our students.”

The company expects to make “10 or 20 percent less” than it would if it charged for course materials based on enrollment, according to Tom Malek, senior vice president of learning solutions and services in an interview with Inside Higher Education. For taking on some responsibility for student performance, McGraw-Hill will receive intelligence from WGU on how students are using the content.

WGU currently charges a flat tuition rate for a study program, covering all coursework used by a student and learning resources except printed textbooks. Some programs also have a special fee in addition to program costs, such as the one-time program fee of $350 that is added to the $3,250 per-term charge for its nursing programs.

“We desired this model for quite some time,” Steve Klingler, vice president of student experience at WGU, told Inside Higher Education. “It aligns (McGraw-Hill’s) interests perfectly with ours and the students. We’re not content to buy the book—we want the students to actually learn from the book and pass the assessment.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Digital ≠ Free

The statement that “Information wants to be free,” is attributed to Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand. Unfortunately, many consumers and even some digital activists today seem to forget that Brand’s very next utterance was “Information also wants to be expensive,” a truth known all too well by publishers, IT staff, and college stores and other content retailers.

As this post on The Scholarly Kitchen blog notes in great detail, the storage and delivery of digital content has costs. Maintenance of current digital warehousing and development of future methods both involve highly skilled professionals and complex equipment. Also—cat videos on YouTube notwithstanding—most content creators need or at least hope to be paid for their efforts. Even producing and disseminating those cat videos requires time, equipment, energy, and bandwidth. Add in backup and security.

“If there’s no place to put it, and nobody to manage it, does it exist?” asks blogger Kent Anderson. “Quick, find me all your five-year-old e-mails.”

The real price tag for digital goods may serve as a tempering response to those who demand free e-textbooks based on the notion that removing printing, binding, and shipping eliminates all the principal costs of creating course content.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Renooking Your Passion for Reading

Instead of The CITE’s usual Friday video clip, here’s a cautionary tale for these times. No matter how high technology soars in communications, learning, and commerce, the low-tech stuff can still trip you up.

The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported on a Nook e-reader owner who decided to download a copy of Tolstoy’s hefty classic War and Peace. But in reading the e-book version, the man discovered some odd phrasing such as “a bonfire the soldiers had nookd on the road.” There were repeated references throughout the e-book to “nook” used in ways that didn’t make sense.

It turns out the publishing company that produced the e-book for the Nook reader apparently took its Kindle version of the book and used the Search and Replace All functions to swap out references of “kindle” with “nook.”

Of course, the purpose was simply to rebrand the e-book for a different market, but the responsible employee obviously didn’t consider how many times the word “kindle” might appear in a novel written before central heating was invented.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

We Want Easy E-Book Loans, Say Libraries

Some of the largest and most influential public libraries in North America banded together June 5 to deliver a manifesto of sorts to e-book providers. The libraries are pushing to make borrowing e-books as fast and easy as borrowing p-books for patrons.

As recounted by Library Journal on The Digital Shift site, more than 70 library systems signed the ReadersFirst Initiative, which focuses on four principles aimed at lifting barriers and restrictions on loaned e-content. Two of the principles call for enabling library cardholders to download e-content in any format to any e-reading device they choose.

The other two principles clamor for integrating all e-book catalogs and all functional processes involving e-books (checkout, placing holds, paying fines, whatever) into one system, preferably the library’s, so that users can enjoy the same seamless experience they have with hard copies. The libraries feel it’s unreasonable to force users to pop in and out of each e-book provider’s catalog to browse and search for titles, and then jump through more hoops in order to borrow a title.

Some integration is already underway but public libraries, at least the ReadersFirst Initiative group, claim it’s not happening quickly enough. However, publishers remain leery of permitting their e-books to even be allowed in libraries at all, much less streamlining the process for borrowers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Foiling Textbook Pirates with Discussion Boards

A professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras believes he has come up with a solution for textbook piracy, high prices for textbooks, and distribution of royalties for new and used textbooks, all in one.

Joseph Henry Vogel was granted a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for his web-based system for course materials. Here’s how it works, in short: An instructor adopts a textbook and licenses it through the system. Students taking the instructor’s course buy the book and use a unique code in each copy to access a class discussion board. The system tracks the logins as proof of purchase and distributes the royalties. Students who don’t buy the book (or who buy a pirated copy) can’t access the discussion board and hence can’t pass the course.

The patent application reasons that students will want to pass and therefore will comply with purchasing a new copy, forgoing any temptation to pirate the text. The application also presumes publishers will be able to reduce textbook prices because they can count on more sales and can spread the development costs over more copies. A key component is that students must be required to participate on the discussion board as a course criterion, or the whole system falls apart.

Vogel’s patent immediately came under criticism from blog sites such as TechDirt for propping up course materials costs, not alleviating them. But some commenters supported the system, noting that academic publishing, especially in the hard sciences, may collapse without sufficient revenues.

The system does accommodate used copies, although students might not actually save much money going that route. If permitted by the license, students who acquire a used textbook would submit documentation showing where they bought it and would pay a fee to the publisher (the patent suggests 30% of the retail price) to access the discussion board.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another Way for Publishers to Reach Consumers

A tech management and consulting firm has launched a web service that appears to make it easier for publishers to sell e-books directly to its customers.

The service, called, helps publishers tap into the 900 million users on Facebook, plus provides a low-cost way to create mobile apps for Android devices immediately, with an app for Apple iOS gadgets coming later this year.

There are fees to use, but publishers are given a password-protected login to a site that allows them to create full-color catalogs with pages for author and book information that links back to the publisher’s web site. The service also provides detailed analytics and tracking information, can collect e-mail addresses, and allows publishers to easily create e-book promotions.

Justin Loeber of CarverTech, the firm that created the service, claims publishers can’t sell directly to customers from the site because rapid development in Facebook and mobile platforms make it difficult to keep up with the coding. At least not yet, and booksellers have to be wondering about the message being sent to visitors who can click on a “buy button” that takes them back to the publisher’s web site to make the purchase.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Parents Prefer Print, But Kids Like E-Titles

Parents would rather read printed books to their children and believe their kids like the print option as well, according to a new study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Perhaps not surprisingly, the center also released information suggesting kids actually like e-books better.

The two studies, which are scheduled for publication at the end of the summer, found that reading comprehension and engagement for the children between print and electronic formats were about the same, but children tended to be more distracted by interactivity features in the electronic titles.

“Just to get kids engaged with books, enhanced e-books have their place,” Cynthia Chiong, lead researcher on the study, said to Digital Book World. “If they want their children to work on reading skills or vocabulary, they may want to choose an e-book or enhanced e-book that is more literary focused.”

Earlier studies have suggested parents are concerned about how much time their children spend in front of an electronic device, whether it’s a computer, e-reader, or tablet. Parents should focus on the text and story when reading to children, according to Chiong.

“It could be more effective for parents to say, ‘Hey, let’s read through the store first and then let’s read through it again,’ to experience all of the interactive levels,” she said.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tablet Computers in the Classroom

This short YouTube video shows how a class at True Light Middle School in Hong Kong used tablet computers to learn English.

The class was divided into teams and assigned the task of writing an acrostic poem, a poem that uses the first letter, syllable, or word of each line to spell out a word or a message.  Students had to use the tablet to write and create a video of the poem, and then present it to the class.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Research Shows More Students Are Reading

There’s been a lot of noise in the press about people reading less, how the book is dead, and that’s leading to the decline of civilization in general. But Justin Marquis, professor of educational technology at Indiana University, reported in a recent blog post for Online Universities that the tide just might be turning.

Marquis points to research done in 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts that showed reading was on the decline. It suggested college freshmen were not reading for pleasure and that online reading wasn’t helping.

Fast-forward five years and that just might be changing. The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s release of findings in April indicating young people are now actually reading more, and e-readers are part of the reason. The report implies availability of e-reading devices coupled with decreasing e-book prices is having a positive effect on student reading habits.

Marquis isn’t claiming the fight is far from over. In fact, while pointing out the many benefits of higher levels of reading among young people, he also documented that the number of Americans over the age of 18 who had read no books at all in the 12 months before the survey. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Apple, Publishers Fire Back at DOJ

A number of legal experts have said Apple will beat the rap when it comes to the Department of Justice’s price-fixing lawsuit over the agency pricing model of e-books (see the blog post from April 22). Now, the computer giant has weighed in, contending the case against it is without merit.

Apple refutes every charge, according to a report in MacNewsWorld, and argues it negotiated individual deals with publishers, which actually enhanced e-book competition. The company also claimed that Amazon created a monopoly in the e-book market and, by entering the field, Apple helped to spur the growth of e-book titles.

But Yasha Heidari, managing partner of the Heidari Power Law Group, seemed unimpressed.

“It’s just a way of trying to get away from the underlying merit of the case,” Heidari told MacNewsWorld. “The whole thing about antitrust law is, it’s very complex, and once you get very big and powerful, you’ll try to get around it. The question is whether or not Apple is trying to get around it.”

Now, both Penguin and Macmillan have also fired back. the two publishing firms have joined Apple in fighting the lawsuit and recently filed responses that dispute all claims against them, including the one suggesting the publishers met secretly over dinner to devise the agency model.

In the 26-page Macmillan rebuttal, CEO John Sargent claims he “dined once or at most twice with peers from certain other publishing houses, but these dinners were social in nature. No conspiracy was hatched over any such dinner.”

Penguin used its 74-page response to target Amazon, calling the online retail giant “predatory.” The publisher also claims it chose to cooperate with Apple because the iPad allows for enhanced books, which the Kindle does not and suggests the agency pricing strategy allows greater competition in the e-book market.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No Love for Less Restrictive DRM Standard

A new idea for how to work with digital rights management (DRM) was posted recently on the International Digital Publishing Forum. Bill Rosenblatt of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies proposed a “DRM-light” standard that would have some restrictions, but would not get in the way of a user’s experience, such as used with iTune’s FairPlay DRM.

While the middle course that tries to provide solutions to both publishers and users seems like a good idea, Chris Meadows, senior writer for TeleRead, just isn’t buying it.

Copyright holders see DRM as a benefit that protects their work. Meadows also points out that “DRM-light” would actually be a step back for publishers already committed to DRM-free titles.

“We don’t need a ‘kinder, gentler DRM,’” Meadows wrote in his TeleRead blog post. “It would only serve as a crutch to let media companies cling longer to the illusion that DRM is helpful. We can already crack DRM on e-books—or bypass it by scanning paper books in. DRM is no barrier to the tech-savvy, and only hinders the non-tech-savvy. It’s only a needless frustration. Admit it and move on.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Can Kindle Ad Sales Lower E-Book Prices?

Amazon has turned selling items at a loss into an art form, particularly when it comes to books. But selling in-book advertisements on its Kindle devices just might put the company in an even stronger position with its competitors, according to a blogposted by Joe Wikert.

The retail giant has shown it is more than happy to lose money on the price of bestsellers. However, Kindle advertising could provide Amazon with the additional revenue to take e-book prices even lower.

“Make no mistake about the fact that Amazon would love to see e-book pricing approaching zero,” Wikert wrote, adding that the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library program is already approaching free e-books.

Amazon is already selling advertising on some of the Kindle models, offering those models at very attractive prices to consumers. There are even rumors that Amazon plans to sell ad space on its Kindle Fire’s welcome screen. Wikert adds there’s nothing stopping Amazon from using in-book advertising, while offering ad-free editions at higher prices.

Amazon will keep 100% of the ad revenue it sells on both device and in-book advertising, padding its bottom line and giving the company even more leverage when it comes to negotiating wholesale list price with publishers. Wikert says he believes other e-book retailers will not be able to sustain the losses to effectively compete.

“Why wouldn’t Amazon follow this strategy, especially since it helps eliminate competitors, leads to market dominance, and fixes the loss-leader problem they currently have with many e-book sales?” he asks.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kahn Talks About His Academy

Sal Kahn has gone from a successful career as a hedge-fund analyst to creating an "academy" that has six million visitors a month viewing his academic videos on everything from algebra to French history. Even Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been impressed.o:p>

"At 3,000 lessons online, Sal's personal ability as a teacher is remarkable," Gates said in this USA Today profile of Kahn. "Bringing this kind of creativity and new assessment tools for teachers could make a profoundly positive different in education."o:p>

Kahn talks about his Academy an dhow it started in this video.