» Software & Tech News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:23:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 For Faculty: A Closer Look at the Yik Yak App Wed, 02 Dec 2015 19:01:58 +0000

Yik Yak is a social-media app that in just two years has become an everyday part of the American college experience. If you’ve heard of it, chances are you think it’s awful. It has a terrible reputation as adangerous source of vitriol, threats and ethnic slurs — a reputation only strengthened by recent events.

After protests by black students led to the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, menacing posts appeared on Yik Yak, which lets people make anonymous, ephemeral notes visible to others within a narrow geographical radius. One of them said, “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”

Last week, police officers in Columbia, Missouri, arrested a man the state university described as “the suspect who posted threats to campus on Yik Yak and other social media.” Later, a student at Northwest Missouri State University was arrested on charges of threatening black students on Yik Yak. (Although Yik Yak posts are anonymous, the company logs users and will share that information with law-enforcement under certain conditions, including imminent threats.)

The stories are typical of those shaping Yik Yak’s media image. Critics, after all, portray it as a clearinghouse of digital hostility. Last month, a coalition of feminist groups asked the Department of Education to force universities to do more to police Yik Yak. They decried it as a tool for “cyber-harassment, intimidation, and threats.” Why would college students embrace such a terrible tool?

I had read about Yik Yak, always negatively, but had never actually experienced it until I was at Princeton last spring, reporting a column on student angst. Students there cited Yik Yak as a way to gauge campus culture, so I signed up and took a look.

What I discovered astonished me.

The Yik Yak I saw came closer to the company’s public-relations aspirations (“home to the casual, relatable, heartfelt, and silly things that connect people with their community”) than to the hate-drenched graffiti its critics had led me to expect. Though largely banal, my samples at Princeton, and later at UCLA and Santa Monica College, revealed Yik Yak posts to be mostly good-natured, often stupid, but rarely evil. At SMC, students typically complain about the parking shortage; at UCLA, they gripe about food; at Princeton they desperately crave sleep. Everywhere they talk about sex.

Most striking is how the anonymity of Yik Yak creates a place of support and solidarity amid academic and social struggles. Shielded by anonymity, students give voice not just to the angry id that attracts condemnation and media notice but to the pain and insecurities they often won’t admit to their friends. This expression can take jocular form, as in the most popular post I saw at Princeton:


Where all the kids are smarter than you except the ones assigned to your group project

It can also be considerably darker. “I have everything someone could ever want. And yet I’m still suicidal and always unhappy,” a UCLA student posted. “I feel the same way,” responded another, who added: “:( and then I feel [terrible] for being unhappy because other people have less and are happy so I feel like I shouldn’t complain. I realize that’s not how it works but still :(”. “Me too :(” another chimed in. Publicly confessing such thoughts might get you denounced as a “special snowflake.” In the anonymity of Yik Yak, you can find people who feel your pain and you can at least know you aren’t alone. Maybe that’s why one Princetonian posted, “I yak 10X more when I’m depressed.”

Along with commiseration and encouragement, the solidarity can include practical advice. “I don’t know if I want to be here but I’ll feel like such a failure if I leave. especially since no one from my high school ever gets accepted at schools like this,” wrote a Princeton student. “I relate to that so much,” responded another. “For me it has helped to reach out for academic help whenever possible — profs and preceptors can be surprisingly nice and office hours have helped me so much.” A couple of self-identified grad students offered encouragement, including reassurance that “most of us love to help you out when we can.”

To students feeling insecure and worthless, Yik Yak carries the message that they matter. Even anonymous strangers care about their well-being. “If people don’t appreciate/value me when I’m alive why should I care that they would care if I died?” wrote a Princeton student. Someone responded, “Hey, my best friend killed himself last year and he kept saying that no one appreciated or valued him but it just wasn’t true. If you really feel that way please go to CPS [the school’s counseling center]. There’s always someone in your life who you mean more to than you’ll ever know.”

So, yes, Yik Yak does attract nasty posts, including the threats in Missouri. But on a routine basis, the app grownups love to demonize is much friendlier than the Twitter and Facebook feeds I read daily. For reasons built into its structure, Yik Yak offers fewer rewards for mean, grouchy, tribal, and polarizing posts and more for those that are supportive, funny, inquisitive, and community-building. Far from encouraging a free-for-all, the terms of service prohibit threats and abuse, as well as “racially or ethnically offensive language.” More immediately, Yik Yak lets users vote comments up or down, giving them longer or shorter lives.

By wielding their voting power, Yik Yak users develop unwritten rules that tend to keep things friendly and fun, observes Briallyn Smith, a graduate student in rehabilitation science at Western University in London, Ontario, who writes frequently on the intersection of technology and college life. “I’ve been amazed by how quickly Yaks that don’t fit the community’s standards will be removed from view — not by any external moderation, but by the user base,” she writes, noting that “generally you’ll only see negative messages for the first minute after they are posted, after which they are completely down-voted into oblivion.”

This dynamic isn’t an accident. It’s essential to the business. Unlike a website such as Reddit or an Internet-based service such as Twitter, Yik Yak doesn’t draw from the whole world. It can’t survive by attracting a tiny fringe from a huge universe or by aggregating lots of separate tribes. It has to draw most of the potential audience within each local radius, typically a college campus. And everyone sees everything — no talking only to those who agree. It’s like a small town, but one that people can abandon simply by not logging on. Leaving Yik Yak, unlike other social media, is painless; it won’t hurt you professionally or cut you off from family photos.

If a local Yik Yak provides a place people want to hang out, it will flourish. If it alienates too many users, it will just blow away. The service has spread so fast not because students love to dole out abuse but because they yearn to connect.

]]> 0
Are You Ready for These New Education Technology Fads and Trends? Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:44:30 +0000 by Frank Catalano

At one point in early May, three different edtech conferences overlapped in the San Francisco Bay Area in the same week: NewSchools Venture Fund’s invitation-only NewSchools Summit, the Software and Information Industry Association’s annual Education Industry Summit, and the U.S. Office of Education Technology’s Future Ready Summit.

Coming on the heels of other high-elevation edtech events with record crowds (Austin’s festival-like SXSWedu in March, and Scottsdale’s Burning-Man-for-investors ASU+GSV Summit in April), it’s no wonder attendees are all left gasping as the seasonal climb nears its end. It makes no difference if one is in industry, policy, funding or teaching, or focuses on K-12 schools, higher education, or lifelong learning. By the time summer arrives, everyone is dazed and confused, and only part of it is altitude sickness.

The result? If you’re an old hand, new to the industry, or just want to understand what all the self-described cool kids are abbreviating (education does so love its jargon), here is your highly opinionated cheat sheet to ten trends, fads, and inexplicable WTFs of edtech, 2015 edition.


BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement: Encouraging students to bring their own laptops, tablets, and even smartphones to school to help get to 1:1 computing (that is, every student has a device) faster than relying solely on school-issued devices. A strong trend, more so at the high school level where many students are more likely to already own a mobile device. Big drivers are the move to digital materials and strained school budgets; challenges are network security and equity for students who don’t have devices or broadband access at home.

Open Educational Resources (OER): Creating digital instructional materials that teachers are free to use, change, and share. A moderate trend, propelled by foundation and government money and pockets of highly motivated educators who develop the resources on their own time, or on school time as part of an institutional effort. Appeal is, well, the free part (except labor); a challenge is maintaining OER over time and getting the resources to combine neatly with other digital content a school may already have purchased.

Freemium: Products or services that have a useful version that is free forever, with an upsell for more scale (say, from individual classroom to school district level) or for more features. A strong trend that has its roots in the long-time concept of consumer or business freeware or shareware, brought to education by savvy startups either wholly aimed at schools (Schoology) or that crossed over from consumer (Evernote). Once considered a fad, freemium moved to trend after some school districts stopped resisting the idea that teachers could identify, try, and recommend good products – and bought.

Student data privacy: Protecting digital student data through security, policy, and practice as consumer apps enter the classroom and pieces of the data persist across 12, or even 20, years of formal education. A moderate trend if you go with the training-wheels (but important starting point)Student Privacy Pledge signed by 140 companies. But much stronger when you add in proposed federal legislation and overdue updates to laws like FERPA (look it up, as your teacher may have once scolded).

Edtech investment bubble: Too much investor money chasing too many similar or bad ideas (for reference, see “dot-com era” and a cute mascot). It’s a strong trend. While the total amount of venture investment in edtech pales by comparison to, say, a single Uber, stupid money appears to be tripping over smart to get in on action and into a market they don’t fully understand. The debate isn’t about whether there is a bubble; it’s whether the bubble is limited to certain segments or is over-inflating all of education technology equally. Unless you’re asking an investor benefiting from inflated values – then it’s all about the kids. Greater fools may abound.


Going 100 percent digital: Replacing everything a student touches, from instructional materials to tests, with digital equivalents. Works great in a world of unlimited bandwidth, perfectly reliable devices, and totally flexible and intuitive software. Oh, and lots of money. This has been attempted in a few perfect-world school districts in the U.S., or where mandated (and funded) by top-down education ministries in other countries. But in much of the messy, unequal, real world, it’s still easier and more common for teachers to do a pop quiz on paper or to ensure educational equity by simply sending home a paperback copy of Shakespeare.

Coding classes and camps: From CoderDojo and to many more, one hour, one weekend, or after-school efforts to get kids to learn computer programming languages to develop logical thinking and STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) skills. We’re in the middle of an if-thenbubble. But the ultimate result will likely be non-binary and more trend than fad, as groups like hope: More recognition of computer science, which is far broader and deeper than coding, as a legitimate part of the K-12 curriculum.


Open Badges: Portable digital graphics with embedded data that represent a skill or achievement and can be easily and securely shared by the earner, then confirmed by an institution or employer, as micro-credentials. Launched by the Mozilla Foundation, Open Badges have failed to take off in K-12 schools as much more than digital gold stars for motivation – there’s far more (albeit still nascent) traction in higher education and professional certification where “chunking” and “stacking” individual accomplishments into, say, a degree or resume is better understood. Open Badges in schools may be facing a classic chicken-or-egg problem. Or districts too chicken to try something this new.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses): Free classes held online at huge scale that are open to anyone. After a burst of success with computer science topics, companies trying to monetize MOOCs have conveniently begun dropping words from the acronym, mostly “massive” (limiting enrollment to a specific institution or company) and “open” (by charging to take part). While MOOCs haven’t been the harbinger of traditional higher education’s doom that some had gleefully predicted, they have succeeded in attracting students of every age to learn more about parts of classes that interest them, and shone a light on the potential of the remaining two words: “online courses.”

With careful study, this cheat sheet of education technology developments and their near-term outlook should make that next education meetup, pitchfest, or conference far more understandable, if not tolerable. Because there will be a test. In education, there always is.

]]> 0
#Teaching: Survey Finds Profs Use of Social Media Increasing Mon, 29 Oct 2012 10:00:59 +0000 College faculty have evolved their use of social media for professional, personal and instructional use, with a decrease in concerns around the value and amount of time spent using social media, according to a new report from the Babson Survey Research Group. The annual survey of nearly 4,000 teaching faculty from all disciplines in higher education, representing U.S. higher education professors, examined both the personal and professional impacts of social media.

Key findings of the survey include:

•  64.4 percent of faculty use social media for their personal lives, 33.8 percent use it for teaching

•  41 percent for those under age 35 compared to 30 percent for those over age 55 reported using social media in their teaching

•  Faculty in the Humanities and Arts, Professions and Applied Sciences, and the Social Sciences use social media at higher rates than those in Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science

•  Blogs and wikis are preferred for teaching, while Facebook or LinkedIn are used more for social and professional connections

•  88 percent of faculty, regardless of discipline, reported using online video in the classroom

“Faculty are clearly becoming more comfortable leveraging social media in their personal, professional and instructional lives,” said Jeff Seaman, Ph.D., co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “Social media is no longer seen as time-consuming to learn and use, which shows that faculty are more proficient and better acquainted with the social media tools available to them.”

While there continue to be barriers to widespread adoption of social media for teaching, the study showed that these concerns are decreasing. Compared to 2011’s social media survey, every adoption barrier measured has decreased in concern, with a dramatic drop in the perception among faculty that social media “takes too much time to learn or use.” Other barriers cited include privacy, the integrity of student submissions and the need or desire to separate course and personal accounts.

“Pearson is committed to deeply understanding innovative teaching practices, especially the effective use of technologies for teaching and learning. This is the third year we have collaborated with the Babson Survey Research Group. Our goal is to help broaden the understanding of how the use of social media in teaching and learning can benefit both faculty and students,” said Hester Tinti-Kane, VP of Marketing, Social Media Strategy and Research, Pearson.

The complete report and infographic for the 2012 study, “How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media,” are available as a free download. The report is also available in multiple eBook formats.

]]> 0
Computer Manufacturers’ Discounts for Adjunct Faculty Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:00:59 +0000 by Amy O’Loughlin

It is a little known fact that adjunct faculty qualify for computer manufacturer software and hardware discounts. Liz Keefe, an adjunct instructor at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, had no idea that she could get a discount directly from a manufacturer.

“I’d love to get a discounted computer,” says Keefe. “I need one badly. . . . I haven’t checked into it where I teach, but I kind of doubt [that I would receive a discount].”

Clare Horn, an adjunct at Emerson College in Boston, was also unfamiliar with this money-saving perk.

“I’m in the market to buy a new computer, and didn’t even consider that I might be able to get a discount,” Horn declares. “I was hoping to buy a Mac. Is Apple one of the ones that offers the discount?”

Despite their relative obscurity, discounts for adjuncts do exist. And yes, Apple is one of several big-name computer manufacturers that offer special pricing to part-time faculty. There are other companies, such as Toshiba, and distributor Global Computers with discount-pricing programs in place, as well. So, whether a high-end Apple PowerBook® G4, which retails for nearly $3,000, is on your wish list, or a more moderately priced Dell Dimension®, which costs below $500, it’s possible to save some cold cash on a hot, new computer.

Keep in mind that tracking down discounts takes time, smart shopping, and price checking to track down the best deals. Each manufacturer has different discount pricing policies, and some offer no educator discounts at all. Others alter their special pricing and promotions regularly (sometimes on a weekly or monthly basis), while some offer heftier discounts if you purchase through state- or school-sanctioned contracts, which procurement associations establish to secure discounts on volume-purchasing by educational institutions and state and local governments.

One example of one such contract is the University of Massachusetts’s “UBuy U$ave UMass” program, which partners with Dell, Gateway, and Apple to provide reduced pricing to students, faculty and staff. Gateway also collaborates with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and the National Association for Equal Opportunity (NAFEO) to bring discounts to the associated schools’ faculty. It is important to note that these procurement contract programs do not always include adjunct faculty.

So, how do adjuncts go about getting faculty discounts? By making a direct call to the manufacturer or by going on-line. Manufacturers have toll-free phone numbers for higher education sales support. Their Web sites detail the discounts they offer, and several manufacturers have on-line stores where you can peruse pricing, promotions, system specifications, configurations, and purchase options. When dealing directly with a manufacturer, either on-line or over the phone, employment status is a non-issue.

As educators know, access to state-of-the-art technology enhances the teaching experience. Fitting technology into your budget may be a little less challenging knowing that computer purchasing discounts are out there just for you.


Click the Education button at to enter the Apple Store for Education. There, price reductions of 10 percent to 15 percent on Apple’s complete line of desktops and laptops are available. Call 1-800-MY-APPLE to speak with a sales representative.


With discounted desktops starting as low as $476 and laptops at $759, Dell easily offers the best value. Yet, be advised—pricing fluctuates frequently. In a three-week span, the Dimension® 2400 went from $382 to $426 to $476. It is difficult to report actual discount percentages, but they can run from between 8 percent to 20 percent. You must give your school’s member number when ordering. If ordering on-line at, you are prompted to enter the school’s member number before final configuration. However, there is also a link below the box that will take you directly to the Member Purchase Program. If ordering by telephone at 1-800-695-8133, a sales representative will provide that number for you.


Gateway’s on-line store, http://www., is tricky to navigate. If you are not purchasing through HACU or NAFEO contracts, you are asked to indicate your school’s state. You are then given a list of corresponding Education Specialists to contact for further information. Discounts vary from state to state, but are generally 5 percent on Gateway’s 510 and 710 desktops; 5 percent on the 275, 450, and 675 notebook series. Specialists are available at 888-888-0392, or shop your local Gateway store.

Global Computers

A distributor of Systemax® notebooks and build-to-order PCs, Global (http://www. discounts its full line of systems. Contact Education Sales Representative, Melissa Rerichs, at 1-888-445-2725 ext. 1583 for information regarding products and pricing.

HP Compaq

Discounts range from 8 percent to 10 percent on most notebooks and all desktops. Call 1-800-696-4662 for pricing information or ordering. Buy on-line at


IBM offers discounts of up to 20 percent through state procurement contracts. Purchaser must use school purchase order or credit card. IBM reduces prices on faculty personal purchases; however, there is no set discount percentage. All discounts are figured on a customer-by-customer, system-by-system basis. Visit, or call 1-888-SHOP-IBM.


No discounts, unless the school opens an account and makes a direct purchase. The company does, however, often offer rebates ( on its products to individual shoppers. For inquiries, go to or call 1-800-BE-SHARP.


No discounts.


Toshiba manufactures only laptops. They offer $30 to $100 reductions on their complete line. Buy on-line at The Education Store at, or call Education and Government Direct Sales at 1-888-62-LEARN.

]]> 0
John Wiley & Sons Sues Hundreds For Copyright Infringement & Illegal Downloads of Digital Books Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:57:14 +0000 by Ernesto Van Dersar

John Wiley & Sons, one of the world’s largest book publishers, is continuing its efforts to crack down on BitTorrent piracy. The company has now named several people who allegedly shared Wiley titles online, and is demanding a jury trial against them. If these actually go ahead it will be the first time that BitTorrent-related evidence is tested in a US court.

dummiesLast fall, John Wiley and Sons became the first book publisher to go after BitTorrent users in the US.

By filing a mass-BitTorrent lawsuit the company followed mostly in the footsteps of several movie studios, who together have sued more than 250,000 people in the US since early 2010. And the publisher didn’t stop at just one.

In recent months Wiley has filed more than a dozen mass BitTorrent lawsuits involving a few hundred John Doe defendants in total. The Does are all accused of sharing digital copies of titles including WordPress for Dummies, Hacking for Dummies and Day Trading for Dummies.

Wiley’s attorney William Dunnegan said previously that one of the main goals of the legal campaign is to obtain the personal details of the alleged infringers and offer them the opportunity to solve the matter through a settlement.

“Our intention is to stop the infringement and let individuals know that they are violating the law and depriving the creators of the works of rightful compensation. Our preference is to educate, settle, and prevent further infringement,” Wiley’s attorney William Dunnegan said.

However, this strategy doesn’t always work. While the courts and Internet providers have been cooperative in assisting Wiley to obtain the personal details of the alleged book pirates, a new filing suggest that some defendants are not taking the publisher’s settlement offer.

In one of Wiley’s cases four defendants have now been named in an amended complaint.

New York residents Jeff Ng, Ralph Mohr, Robert Carpenter and Xiaoshu Chen are no longer anonymous Does. Wiley is proceeding to call for a full jury trial against the quartet in which they will face accusations of copyright infringement and up to $150,000 in penalties for each offense.

Wiley’s attorney William Dunnegan declined to comment on the recent developments in these specific cases. “We are proceeding with these cases as a part of Wiley’s overall copyright enforcement and education program,” was the comment we got instead.

If one or more of the three cases indeed proceeds to a full trial it will be the first time that actual evidence against BitTorrent infringers is tested in court. This is relevant because the main piece of evidence the copyright holders have is an IP-address, which by itself doesn’t identify a person but merely a connection.

In a past RIAA court case experts described the evidence gathering techniques “as factually erroneous”, “unprofessional” and “borderline incompetent.” In addition, academics have shown that due to shoddy technique even a network printer can be accused of sharing copyrighted files on BitTorrent.

If the evidence is indeed tested in court, it should be a case to watch for sure.

That said, there’s also the chance that the lawyers are using the threat of a full trial by jury as a pressure tool to convince the defendants to settle. After all, the RIAA’s litigation campaign against individual file-sharers has shown that even when a jury awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, lengthy trials cost more than they bring in.

Don’t forget to vote in the poll, below: Have You Ever Used BitTorrent to Download Books, Music or Movies?

[polldaddy poll=6152376]


First posted to Torrent Freak.


]]> 1
Hire-A-Pirate Service Seeks to Make Rented e-Textbooks More, Ahem, “Affordable” For Students Wed, 05 Oct 2011 15:23:22 +0000 During August, just before the start of the new school term, TorrentFreak reported on LibraryPirate, a site with a mission of providing college students with an alternative to continuously rising textbook prices. Bemoaning what he sees as greedy profiteering, LibraryPirate’s admin says the year-old site’s aim is clear.

“Our mission is simple and specific,” he told TorrentFreak. “To revolutionize the digital e-textbook industry and change it permanently.”

Now the site is stepping up its assault against “textbook monopolists” by offering a brand new service to not only reduce the costs of digital textbook rentals, but to turn that temporary access to an educational necessity into permanent ownership.


Library Pirate


The initiative the site is running is called “Hire-a-Pirate” and the publishers aren’t going to like it one bit. Many students, on the other hand, won’t share their view. This is how it works. First, the student lets LibraryPirate know the title of the book they’re looking for. Then, site staff locate the product on eTextbook rental services and advise the student of the current rental price. An example shown to us was a book costing $200, but with a time-limited digital rental copy also available at $118.50.

Participating students are then asked to purchase a gift certificate from the official seller for the full amount ($118.50 in our example) and send the gift code to LibraryPirate. Site staff then rent the book on the student’s behalf.

“After a little bit of this and a little of that, we strip the Digital Rights Management (DRM) from the PDF and contact the user letting them know the book is ready via torrent,” says LP’s admin. “The student can now carry the textbook with them anywhere for as long as they want, allowing the PDF to be easily read on any device.”

The idea is that not only does a rental copy get turned into the unrestricted real thing, but students can choose to split the cost of obtaining a book between friends – 10 friends contributing means just $11.85 each. For future students, however, the cost of obtaining the same book reduces to zero.

“Every textbook purchased through the Hire-a-Pirate program will be added to the LibraryPirate torrent database. If you do not have time to scan books, this is an excellent way to help the cause and save money at the same time,” adds LP.

However, for those who have hard copies already, the time to take a few photographs and a desire to share, LibraryPirate have just released a new tool to make eBook creation a lot more simple.

LPBR is a piece of software created by LP member RiddleRiot which turns any digital camera into “a lean mean textbook scanning machine.”

After placing the book on a black background and photographing its pages, a couple of clicks later and an eBook comes out the other end.

“LPBR will crop, sharpen and re-size the entire folder of camera scan images into one easily readable PDF book,” says TP’s admin. “It’s so easy to scan a textbook now, even a college student can do it. During our testing, we were able to scan and convert one 500 page book in under 2 hours.”

Of course, with both the Rent-a-Pirate service and the LPBR software, what we’re looking at here is copyright infringement, but LP’s admin insists that since students are being abused by a broken education system that leaves them no other option than to spend ridiculous sums of money on textbooks, there is only “one path to moral high ground.”

The “private theft of education” must be combated, he concludes, and that can only come about by striking the monopolies where it counts – in their pocketbooks.

So, is ripping DRM from textbooks and sharing them for the purposes of gaining an education more morally acceptable than doing the same with movies, music and games? Or is it just an elaborate excuse to frame copyright infringement in a righteous manner?

What comes first, the rights of the publishers or the need for a fairer system towards educational enlightenment?

]]> 0
E-Books Gaining Momentum in the Marketplace Sat, 01 Jan 2011 04:00:00 +0000 By Peter Osnos

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in November, I decided to read historian Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). Pinter, the playwright, actor, and Nobel Prize winner in literature died of cancer in late 2008, and Fraser, his lover and then wife for more than 30 years, had put off work on her biography of Elizabeth I so she could collect this diary of their lives together. The reviews had been enticing: “Glowing,” wrote Dwight Garner in the New York Times, “There’s hardly a dull page.” In the early 1980s as a correspondent, I had met them in London, had read at least one of Fraser’s books, and had seen nearly all Pinter’s plays and movies. So I reached for my iPad and for $9.55 downloaded the book via the Kindle app. (My wife has nearly full possession of the family Kindle.) The entire process had taken barely more than a minute, and I spent a satisfying evening with a book that, for all its appeal to me, was hardly intended to attract a mass American audience.

About 22,000 print copies of Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter have been shipped, according to the publisher. As of last week, Bookscan, covering about three-quarters of actual sales, recorded 6,591 copies sold in the six weeks since the book was released, which, by the standards of high-end nonfiction is not a bad start, especially with the Christmas gift season in full swing. The number of digital books sold for the title is not available, but the latest report from the Association of American Publishers shows that, overall, e-books now represent about 8.7 percent of the $9 billion book market (an increase of 3.4 percent for all books for the year to date). Last year, the e-book percentage was 3.3, and in 2007, barely more than 0.6 percent. If publishing revenue numbers are up for 2010, and e-books are making an increasing contribution towards those totals, there is cause for optimism about an industry that has perennially been described as besieged for one reason or another.

On my iPad, in addition to my Kindle app, I now have access to Barnes & Noble’s e-books, Apple’s iBook, Borders e-books, and as of last Monday, Google eBooks, which instantly became a major factor in the digital book marketplace. When I wrote about Google’s plans, I said that with its launch, there would be a fully competitive array of booksellers from which consumers could choose and that books could be read on a myriad of devices, from mobile to tablet to desktop. Now, every day, more books, including those far more specialized than Ms. Fraser’s account of her life with Pinter, are being digitized and put up for sale. Although I have been writing regularly about the progress and prospects of digital publishing, I am still amazed at the pace of growth and overall role of e-books in our industry. Significantly, the predicted perils of that transformation—piracy, pricing, and measurable cannibalization of more lucrative sales of printed books—haven’t yet led to a crisis of confidence or commerce so characteristic of the digital era in music, movies and television.

Not surprisingly, the evolution of the e-book market has major implications for traditional bookstores. Publishers Weekly has selected Len Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., as its “Person of the Year.” The basis of that choice—which comes as Barnes & Noble is in the midst of a strategic review, including the possibility of a sale or a return to private ownership by Riggio—is the company’s adaptation to the digital realities. “Len is the only person looking to integrate print and digital,” Simon & Schuster CEO told Publishers Weekly. What that means is that the chain’s existing brick and mortar stores, B&, its online bookstore, and the company’s proprietary Nook reading device are being crafted into an entity that serves customers across the board, and Reidy is right that only Barnes & Noble has the capacity to do that and has shown the skills to fulfill the challenge. Meanwhile, Borders, the second largest chain, is struggling, and reported a discouraging third quarter last week, with lower sales and margins that indicate further trouble in 2011. Borders has an emerging e-book strategy, and some hedge fund investors have set the goal of turning this lump of coal around with financial derring-do that includes making an offer to buy B&N, which seems an awfully long shot.

Google eBooks, in a departure for a company based on ad-supported search and services, is acting as a retailer, but also has provided the country’s independent booksellers with encouragement to use it to create e-book stores of their own. “This levels the playing field,” Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, told the New York Times, “If you want to buy ebooks, you don’t just have to buy them from the big national outlets.” Looking ahead, the likelihood is further turbulence in the various arenas where books are sold, but whatever the outcome, it is now safe to say that e-books truly have arrived.

First posted on Used here with permission.


]]> 0
Adjuncts Rally for Union at Temple University Fri, 01 Jan 2010 04:00:00 +0000 by Rosella Eleanor LaFevre

The Adjunct Organizing Committee, a group that aims to unionize Temple’s part-time faculty, declared the week of Nov. 16th Adjunct Awareness Week. Members of the committee stood at the Bell Tower around noon every day through Nov. 20th.

The AOC has worked for several years to unionize adjuncts. Its goals are to gain some predictability in adjuncts’ courses, a clear path for promotion based on performance in teaching and research and equal pay and benefits for equal work.

This is the first year the committee organized Adjunct Awareness Week.

Adjunct American studies professor Regina Bannan said they chose to do so this year, “because the university is doing the Middle States Study for accreditation, and the Middle States standard is that all faculty should be treated as faculty. We decided to do this to raise awareness that Temple is not treating its adjuncts equally.”

Adjunct professors make up 46.5 percent of Temple’s faculty but do not receive the same pay and benefits awarded to full-time professors. Although the AOC has the support of the Temple Association of University Professionals and the American Federation of Teachers, its members still face great opposition in their quest for unionization.

“Most undergraduates do not know what ‘adjunct’ means,” Bannan said.

Adjunct professors are the part-time faculty who teach a maximum of two courses per semester, which range from highly specialized subject matter to high-volume and entry-level courses. According to a report by the AOC, although adjuncts account for approximately half the university’s faculty, they earn half as much as the lowest-paid, non-tenure-track full-time professor for teaching the same courses.

“Non-celebrity” adjuncts earn $14,000 for 12 credit hours and $19,000 for 16 credit hours. There are a few celebrity adjuncts, film and media arts adjunct Dan Friedlaender and English adjunct Frank Fucile said, who earn double that amount.

This is not the only way in which adjuncts are treated unfairly, they said.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, one of six regional accrediting organizations, published the 90-page document “Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education,” which outlines the eligibility requirements institutions must meet in order to be accredited.

The 13th eligibility requirement stated in “Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education” is: “The institution’s faculty is sufficient in number, background and experience to support the programs offered and includes a core of faculty with sufficient responsibility to the institution to assure the continuity and coherence of the institution’s programs.”

Temple, however, does not meet this requirement.

“There’s not even a renewal of contract,” Bannan said. “Contracts are renewed every semester, so you do not know if you’ll be teaching next semester.”

A university cannot guarantee continuity and coherence of its programs if there is no guarantee of continuity among faculty, she added.

No. 14 of the eligibility requirements listed in “Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education” reads: “The institution maintains physical facilities for administration, faculty, students and programs and services that are appropriate for the institution’s mission and educational programs offered.”

Based on research conducted by the AOC, Temple also fails to meet this requirement by not providing adjuncts with offices. Adjuncts teach half of all undergraduate classes but are half as likely to have private offices where they’re able to meet with students.

In a survey conducted by the AOC, nearly 40 percent of adjuncts polled said they used their cars as offices. Some adjuncts, for instance, have trunks filled with paperwork or use their cars to transport musical instruments between home and work.

Adjuncts who do have access to offices usually have to share. In one extreme case, an estimated 30 adjuncts share one office.

“Most of us share offices, which is not as nice as having private offices,” Bannan said. “Most of the time, when students are meeting with their professors, it is to express grievances, and that is not the kind of meeting you want to have with an audience.”

Temple’s Middle-States Accreditation self-study states: “The university has published and implemented standards and procedures for all faculty and other professionals for promotion, tenure, grievance, discipline and dismissal.”

A document written by the AOC reports that “no such standards and procedures for adjuncts are available.”

But according to the university self-study, there exists “university-wide policy on adjunct appointments, as well as individual school and college appointment guidelines.”

The committee, however, wrote that it knew of “no such university-wide policy, nor of the guidelines for individual schools and colleges.”

The AOC also wrote in its response to Temple’s self-study for Middle States Accreditation that – despite the lack of communication of information that would allow adjuncts to determine their position in relation to other university professionals – the university “expresses sensitivity to the plight of adjuncts, many of whom are young, dependent on more than one adjunct position and vulnerable to exploitation.”

“The full-time faculty union is supporting our efforts,” Bannan said.

TAUP President Art Hochner was present on Berks Mall to help spread the word with members of the AOC during Adjunct Awareness Week.

Friedlaender said university administrators appear apathetic to the adjunct cause.

He said he’s heard numerous times from the administration things like, “No one’s holding a gun to your head. If you don’t like it here, you can leave.”

“It’s the Ayn Rand way of thinking,” Friedlaender said. “They’ve got you at a certain position, and because they’ve already got you, they don’t have to give you anything more.”

Temple’s administration has held up the progress of the AOC by failing to provide it with information necessary for unionization, members said.

“The problem is we have to figure out who are adjuncts because the university does not give us a list of all adjuncts,” Bannan said.

Members of the AOC said they are hopeful more adjuncts will join their organization because ultimately, Friedlaender and Bannan said, the adjuncts are here for the benefit of the students and the goals of the committee would benefit the students at Temple.

“We’re good teachers,” Fucile said, “and we want to teach here.”

]]> 0
Tomorrow’s Promises — Why the Kindle Won’t Have a Dramatic Impact on College Course Materials for at least Five Years Sat, 01 Nov 2008 04:00:00 +0000 by Rob Reynolds

There has been significant buzz recently about Amazon’s announced plans to create a special version of its Kindle e-book reader of the college market. However, a Kindle reader for the college market will not have a significant impact on the price of textbooks or course materials for at least five years. [Disclosure: The author is a former teacher and administrator at a large public university, a former author and employee for multiple major textbook publishing companies, a parent to two college students, and the lead product designer for a proprietary online e-book platform built and sold by an educational software company.]

Understanding the College Textbook Business — How Sausage Gets Made

With the many articles written about textbook prices of late, there have appeared a number of general statements about the textbook publishing industry. These include claims that publishers profit at the expense of their authors, that publishers create unnecessary new editions of existing textbooks in order to drive the sale of new textbooks, and that publishers inflate artificially the prices of their textbooks simply to add to their profit.

There is no doubt that major textbook publishers are big business. The college textbook market represents between $5 billion and $6 billion and the the last 18 months have seen the sale of two major publishers (Houghton Mifflin College and Thomson Learning) for $750 million and $7.75 billion respectively. The overall consolidation of the college textbook market has left four primary players (listed in order of size and market share): Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley. While each of these companies has different strategies and discipline emphases, their business models are largely identical. An understanding of their business model is critical to appreciating why they will not be quick to adopt the Kindle reader is a primary distributor for their content.

First, it’s important to understand how these companies operate and how they make money. If you take a look at any of the major college textbook publisher Web sites, you’ll see that they have hundreds (even thousands) of textbooks in their catalog. These books range from small niche titles for low-enrollment upper division courses to major tomes targeting high-enrollment General Education courses. The lower selling textbooks are often referred to as “B” or “C” titles while the high-volume sellers are often called “AAA” titles. As you probably suspected, textbook publishers make more money on AAA titles because they sell more of them. Of course, they also have a much higher investment in each one as well. This amount of investment for C title may be $20,000-$40,000 while the investment for a bestselling AAA title can range between $400,000 and $1,000,000.

The average life-of-edition (LOE) for a college textbook is three years. When publishers talk about the profitability of a textbook they measure it in terms of its profitability over its LOE. The first year of a print textbook’s edition life will necessarily represent its highest sales and revenue potential since subsequent years will see the sale of new textbooks eroded by the presence of used textbooks (from which the publishers receive no revenue). As an example, a AAA title in Spanish might have first-year sales of 30,000, second-year sales of 12,000, and third year sales of 3,000. Textbook publishers often try to develop special second or third year selling strategies for popular AAA titles by introducing new ancillaries that are be sold in bundles with new textbook copies.

A key point about textbooks and editions is that there is only one time when a publisher can guarantee the sale of only new books — in the first year of a new edition. Subsequent editions will have new textbooks without a used book market for that edition, but they will lose sales to used books from previous editions. This is why textbook publishers must constantly sign authors to create new textbooks. In fact, this is one of the most important jobs of an acquisitions editor or publisher. New textbook projects mean new first editions and higher profitability. They also serve as insurance against aging titles in a portfolio.

In a gross simplification, discipline publishers or editors are like franchise owners who “borrow” money from the central organization to cover the development, operating, and sales costs related to a book. The central organization approves these “loans” on a per-book basis and based on common profitability models that have developed over the last three decades. As a rule of thumb, the sales of a textbook should ideally be eight to ten times the development and sales costs over the LOE (this is called the sales-to-plate or sales-to-plant ratio). As an example, a popular title with development costs of $500,000 should generate $5,000,000 over its three-year LOE. This profit formula takes into consideration manufacturing costs, operational overhead and, most important, author royalties. Author royalties on a college textbook typically range anywhere from 8%-20%.

At regular budget meetings, publishers and editors make the case for each textbook they want to produce by providing projected costs and sales figures. In order to provide incentive for the best cost management and sales performance, these projections form a good portion of the bonus plan for these same employees.

Within this context, e-books are budgeted as a small percentage of the overall budget. From the textbook publisher’s perspective the development costs are identical whether the content is being flowed into a print textbook or an e-book. This is because textbook publishers make most of their revenue of print textbooks and, consequently, most of the content development strategy is formulated around those print textbooks. E-books are simply “add-ons” or extra products that can be viewed as a by product of the core print development process.

Understanding the College Textbook Business — How Sausage Gets Sold

Textbook publishers, it must be remembered, are not actually large, homogeneous or single-cell organizations. Rather, they are a series of franchises and operating units held together by central manufacturing processes and pricing, and revenue goals. In the textbook publishing world, editorial teams sign authors and create products. Through multiple justifications after the signing, they are finally able to secure the actual budget for a project and put it into production.

Once a textbook is nearing readiness for sale, the editors and publishers must then convince the sales staff that they can make money selling the book. A typical sales representative will have multiple AAA titles for each discipline and will be covering several large disciplines. Their catalogs are big and their book bags heavy. They make the most money on large adoptions of first-edition AAA titles and are necessarily motivated to spend more of their time selling those. These sales representatives work with individual faculty members and departmental committees to make sales.

I should also point out that college textbook publishers are also increasing their efforts to sell at the institutional level. Institutional sales differ from traditional textbook sales with regards to size, multi-year commitments, and the degree of customization required. In both instances all sales efforts are directed at either instructors or administrators. These are the actual decision makers with regards to the textbook adoption.

Of course, the actual “sale” –getting the commitment from an instructor, department, or institution — is only the starting point for the textbook publisher in the revenue cycle. Securing the adoption has likely encumbered a commitment for onsite training and/or a level of customization. Additionally, unless the textbook is a first edition in its first year, the sales representative must also negotiate with the campus bookstore to lock in a commitment to a specific number or percentage of new textbooks. Finally, textbooks are placed on bookstore shelves or sold via online sites and publishers can start tracking their success.

Within this sales process, e-books can play a couple of roles. For the most part, e-books are primarily pitched as “low-cost” alternatives that allow college textbook publishers to provide a counter to the rising cost of print textbooks. In some instances, e-books also exist as enhanced, multimedia versions of the textbook although these cost more than the basic e-book. Finally, e-books are often included in different electronic ancillary components such as online homework management systems or online courses.

Today, e-books still represent a small percentage of textbook revenue for college textbook publishers. They are seen as incentives that help close adoptions, provide good PR with regards to news about high textbook prices, and are a cheap addition to the publishing package for a traditional textbook.

Understanding the College Textbook Business — Why the Kindle Doesn’t Fit

Within the textbook publishing processes described above, there are key factors that preclude too much excitement about the Kindle becoming the primary e-book platform for college textbooks.

First, within the current content development workflow for textbook publishers, the plant investment remains the same regardless of whether the product is a print textbook or an e-book. And, since publishers sell far more print textbooks than e-books, there is no incentive to change production workflows to favor the creation of minimized or lower-cost e-books from which print textbooks could be created. This means that publishing e-books, without significant changes to current design and production workflow, does not reduce the publishers’ costs significantly. This is important because it means all current e-book solutions for textbook publishers take into consideration the print book production process and derives cost efficiencies from that process. There are neither sales incentive or cost efficiencies in the current workflow that would cause publishers to get excited about the Kindle.

Furthermore, there is the rather important issue of royalties. Amazon currently commands a 60 percent royalty share of content sales related to its product. That is a fine solution for trade book publishers (fiction and non-fiction) targeting business travelers and who see the Kindle as providing incremental sales. But textbook publishers expect (and need) much higher margins for their products and have major concerns about pirating sales from their print solutions. With development costs remaining the same, textbook publishers would make much less in a world where e-books were too popular. They would make even less by using Amazon’s product as their already-decreased profit margin would be sliced further by Amazon’s take.

Also, major textbook publishers have already invested in technology solutions and companies that support their current business model and that help them achieve other business goals such as sampling textbooks to instructors. Each of the major college textbook publishers supports multiple online technologies to meet their production and product needs, and they have also formed a business partnership to provide a unified technology response to the demand for low-cost textbooks. The Kindle would represent yet another production workflow as well as another sales channel to confuse their representatives.

Another consideration is that e-books for textbook publishers also represent important contextualized learning tools that support their homework management products (LMS solutions). This use of e-books favors online e-books that can be integrated seamlessly into a BlackBoard, Angel, Moodle etc. LMS platform. The Kindle could certainly be used for this but that would require a significant change in the current workflows and processes for textbook publishers.

Finally, and most important, while the Kindle will be extremely attractive to students, they are not currently significant decision makers in the textbook adoption process. College textbook publishers sell their product to instructors and institutional representatives. What is important to those decision makers, historically speaking, is not representative of the students’ preferences or desires. So, unless the Kindle can be presented as valuable to the instructor (saves him/her time, helps with assessment, etc.), there is little incentive for the textbook publisher to move aggressively to partner with Amazon.

What Will It Take?

This is not to say, however, that the Kindle won’t become a major player in the college textbook market in the future. My purpose in this article has been simply to point out that there are a number of “acceptance” obstacles from the perspective of textbook publishers. Those obstacles, as with any business scenario, could be overcome and the landscape could change sooner than I currently predict (minimum of five years), however, with any or all of the following changes:

  • Growth of the direct-to-student textbook market for publishers — Currently all real adoption decisions are made by instructors and institutions. There is no real direct-to-student or direct-to-consumer revenue to speak of. If students become a more significant factor in the adoption process everything in the industry would change.
  • Much lower royalty rate for Amazon — Amazon could increase the incentive for publisher partnerships by lowering its demand for royalty.
  • Re-evaluation of development processes and workflow for publishers — If publishers can decrease their production costs significantly, or if they switch models to an electronic-product-first concept, the Kindle would make much more sense.
  • E-book functionality to meet all needs — Much will hinge on the actual functionality delivered by the new version of the Kindle. In order to meet minimum textbook publisher standards, it will need to have a color interface, a true browser, and support embedded links and media. Wait, that sounds like a laptop.
  • Integration with other learning platforms — Textbook publishers are re-inventing themselves as learning solutions experts and providers. This means providing content packages that are integrated with many different technology platforms. The Kindle will need to be adaptable to support LMS platforms, Web sites, catalog sites, etc.

  • The Bottom Line

    Personally, I have used the Kindle reader and I like it. What makes it attractive to me s a business traveler or even a student (size, convenience, wireless capability), does not necessarily make it attractive to college textbook publishers. The 60 percent royalty share is likely deal-breaker, and the potential to pirate print textbook sales is negative as well. Of course, the one thing that could change the playing field unexpectedly and dramatically is if the Kindle actually becomes as popular for e-books as the iPod did for music. I don’t think that will happen (for reasons which I will discuss n an upcoming article), however, so I think we’re looking at least five years into the future before this product has a dramatic impact on the shape or cost of college course materials.

    ]]> 0
    Essay Grading Software Wed, 01 Mar 2006 04:00:00 +0000 by Evelyn Beck

    As an English teacher who has devoted countless nights and weekends, not to mention my formerly keen eyesight, to grading student papers, I have met the news about essay-grading software with a mixture of joy and unease. Is it really possible, I wondered, that a computer might take over a chore that is often, admittedly, pure drudgery? Can a computer really evaluate a student’s writing as carefully and helpfully as I do? And if that is possible, does it mean I’m expendable?

    Several companies have developed essay-grading software. Their products include IntelliMetric by Vantage, Intelligent Essay Assessor by Pearson Knowledge Technologies, SAGrader from Qualrus, and Criterion from ETS.

    What’s exciting about these developments is how they give students immediate feedback on their writing, suggesting areas of strength and weakness. This can help a student who’s stuck midway through an essay figure out how to push through to the end, it can direct a student on how to polish a rough draft, and it can also reinforce and support a teacher’s analysis of a student’s writing. This software could also work well in courses where the content of the writing is most important, for it offers a holistic look at each student’s essay. For example, if you usually give objective tests, but have considered essay exams or your institution is encouraging writing across the curriculum, this software might be a good solution to the challenge of trying to manage this more demanding kind of assignment. It is also a very useful tool for a student preparing for a standardized test that includes a writing sample, such as the SAT, GRE, or AP. And from an institutional standpoint, these are great labor-saving devices for evaluating placement tests.

    Most of these products, though, do not provide word-by-word, line-by-line, or even paragraph-by-paragraph analysis. Most do not suggest specific ideas for revision or development beyond noting overall kinds of omissions or weaknesses. And even though feedback might address the student by name, none of the software, understandably, is personal in the way that an instructor might be. Can you imagine a computer telling a student, “I laughed until my side hurt when I read about your vacation disaster” or “I am so proud of the way your writing has developed this semester?”

    The ways that essays are evaluated differ by company. Pearson’s Intelligent Essay Assessor offers scores ranging from 0 (inadequate) to 5 (excellent) in four categories: overall, content, style, and mechanics. Vantage provides feedback in the form of a paragraph that briefly evaluates content, organization, language, and mechanics, along with a score ranging from 1 to 6. For example, a sample essay scored 4 received this comment: “An adequate essay with an organizational pattern that is evident and shows reasonable development of ideas. Word choice is adequate. The writer shows an adequate command of the language, with some errors in usage and/or mechanics.” Qualrus’ SAGrader scores essays from 1 to 20, focusing exclusively on content, specifically the identification and explanation of key terms related to a topic, such as criminal theories of deviance.

    From my perspective, the most impressive essay-grading software is Criterion from ETS. Like the other products, this one awards each submitted essay a holistic score, in this case ranging from 1 to 6. What it offers that the others don’t is detailed feedback on a student’s essay, including pointing out individual errors. It also keeps a running tally of the number of papers in which certain kinds of errors occurred—something that I would find particularly helpful as an English instructor working to help students identify areas they need to work on. Unfortunately, to take full advantage of these tools, instructors must assign a topic already built into the software. It’s possible to create your own prompt, though the student will not receive a holistic score when writing in response to an instructor’s original topic.

    After viewing the free demos of these products, I’m excited about the extra help available to students in improving their writing. (Of course, this help comes at a cost to the institution.) I’m also, frankly, relieved that these tools are only teacher’s helpers and not a substitute for the real thing, which so far is irreplaceable.

    For more information

    Demonstrations of essay-grading software products are available at these websites:

    Vantage Learning

    Pearson Knowledge Technologies



    ]]> 0