About The New Florida Virtual Campus Survey On Textbooks

As long-time readers know, I strongly believe that the national discussion about the costs of textbooks and course materials is more productive when we focus on actual student behaviors and impacts, rather than artificial numbers used by many organizations. There may be short-term benefit from claiming or implying that the average college student spends $1200 or more per year on textbooks, but the reality is closer to $650. See “How Much Do College Students Actually Pay For Textbooks?” for more details, thanks in particular to information from NACS.

The second-best source available on actual student expenditures on textbooks and course materials is the bi-annual survey from the Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC), which serves Florida’s state colleges, universities, and K-12 districts. Two weeks ago they released the third survey “2016 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey”, a study of more than 22,000 students in the public colleges and universities. This report is particularly informative for asking questions about the impact of textbook costs – what do students end up doing. That is the interesting question.

The whole report is worth reading, but I’d like to highlight two key points. The first is confirmation that the average actual spending on college textbooks is in the $600 – $650 per year range. In the FLVC survey, students spend just over $300 in one semester on textbooks. Continue reading

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McGraw-Hill Education’s Perspective on Adaptive Learning

Last spring, I had the opportunity to interview some of the top folks on McGraw-Hill Education’s (MHE’s) digital team to get their view on adaptive learning. Between ALEKS, LearnSmart, and SmartBooks, they have the developed the most well articulated adaptive strategy of any of the big publishers, under the leadership of Chief Digital Officer Stephen Laster. And on a personal note, Al Essa, their Vice President of Research and Data Science, has been a friend since the days when he was CIO at MIT’s Sloan School of Business and he and both were working on an open source LMS project. (Al also helped with analysis of the Blackboard patent back when he was at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and ran a simulation giving some matheatical rigour to Mike Caulfield’s intuition that some of Purdue University’s Course Signals research was off.) So I was interested to hear what MHE’s digital team had to say about the role of adaptive learning in the classroom, what learning science does and doesn’t tell us, and other related topics.

For reasons that aren’t worth going into, this video sat in the can waiting to go into post-production for about six months. Here, finally, is the first segment in what will be a series produced from the interview:


More of the interview will be coming soon.

Full disclosure: In the intervening months between when this video was shot and now, MHE became a client of MindWires.

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The Great Unbundling of Textbook Publishers

When we hear the phrase “unbundling” in education, it usually refers to one of two things. Either it’s about unbundling the university into component parts like separating courses from certification or it’s about unbundling content from textbooks or courses into discrete learning objects. On the spectrum from “figment of the imagination” to “the one and only future,” both of these types of unbundling fall closer to the figment side into some version of “real in some significant sense but highly overrated.” But there is a different kind of unbundling that is beginning to happen that I feel confident is going to be very real: The unbundling of textbook publishers from content.

Continue reading

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Recommended Viewing: Learning Analytics Webinar on Caliper and xAPI

If you follow learning analytics closely, you may be aware that there are two learning analytics standards—Caliper and xAPI—that appear competitive with each other at a casual glance. A webinar hosted by the Apereo Foundation between Anthony White, who is deeply involved with Caliper in the IMS working group on behalf of the University of Michigan, and Aaron Silvers, who works on xAPI through the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC), had an hour-long conversation about how the two standards relate to each other.

The Apereo news page where I found the video gives a disclaimer about the views of the presenters being solely their own, which sounds like a standard thing but leapt out at me as being a little odd in this context. I’ve heard second-hand rumblings that the growth of these two standards has re-envigorated the periodic diplomatic negotiations between the two standards bodies about how they should be working together (some of which is actually confirmed in the video), so I suspect that more than the usual care is being taken to make the conversation officially unofficial. Still, it’s really helpful to hear two practitioners who are familiar with the respective specifications talk about the details, if you’re into that sort of thing.


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Recommended Reading: Article in Chronicle on Measuring Learning

Dan Barrett’s piece over the weekend in The Chronicle, “The Next Great Hope for Measuring Learning,” deserves a close read. He describes in some detail a ground up effort by faculty and administrators across several institutions to define and measure what it is that students are learning and why it’s important. In doing so, these faculty and administrators are moving beyond looking simply at content mastery and focusing on broader skills of quantitative reasoning, writing and critical thinking. It’s forcing them to develop new approaches to reviewing student work, moving away from the idea of “grading” and toward “scoring” against a rubric that looks more sophisticated learning outcomes.

The effort, directed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) – an active advocate in this space (see Michael’s earlier blog post, “Outcomes-Based Education and the Conservative Radicalism of the AAC&U”), is not without its skeptics, including many participants in the actual project. That said, the approach is being watched closely as a way for higher education to define and measure appropriate criteria that lead to improvements in teaching and learning while simultaneously speaking to accountability issues around which there is so much attention.

Like many promising initiatives in higher education recently highlighted by e-Literate, well thought out, collaboratively developed homegrown solutions usually trump those imposed by third parties working in isolation.

Note: For those without a Chronicle subscription, use this link to get behind the firewall for 24 hours after this post publishes.

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