Students stage ‘textbook rebellion’ at University of Maryland

Plotkin spoke to students gathered outside a UMD library.

College students are going without required textbooks, doing their best to eke through the semester without shelling out hundreds in their campus bookstores. With inexpensive alternatives sparse, a group of college activists—backed by the Obama administration—is railing against skyrocketing textbook prices … one campus at a time.

The Textbook Rebellion, a nationwide tour of 40 campuses in 14 states during the fall semester, kicked off Aug. 31 at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) College Park campus, where officials from the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), student leaders, and an Obama administration official rallied for more open-source textbook options, both online and in print, that could trim students’ annual $1,000 book bill.

Textbook Rebellion launched a website that collects petition signatures aiming to show the widespread support for course textbooks that cost $30 or less, including online books that can be converted to traditional texts through an inexpensive printing process. Student PIRG officials said they hope to collect 10,000 signatures over the next six weeks.

Hal Plotkin, a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) who addressed students and reporters gathered outside UMD’s McKeldin Library, said encouraging and incentivizing more open-source textbooks would be a key piece of President Obama’s goal to lead the world in college graduates by 2020.

Plotkin, a central figure in the White House’s plans for more free open educational resources, said the administration would soon unveil “substantial grants” for companies and educators willing to create textbooks that could be used on campuses nationwide.

Samantha Sperling, a UMD sophomore and the campus’s chapter chair of MaryPIRG, said that the costs of textbooks—even on a large campus with students committed to myriad causes—has long been a concern for any student who has to buy a $200 biology or psychology book.

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Imagine a $500,000 Gates Foundation grant to Harvard

Why would the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s richest foundation, hand over a $500,000 grant to Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university? Asks the Washington Post. It turns out that Harvard, in July, was given a $500,000 grant from Gates, which has its financial tentacles deep in the education world and beyond, to do the following, according to the foundation’s Web site: “to re-imagine the Harvard Graduate School of Education for the future.”

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Three-fifths of colleges get C or worse in general education

An analysis of core education requirements at 1,007 colleges found that three-fifths of those schools require three or fewer of seven basic subjects, such as science, math and foreign language, the Washington Post reports. This is the third annual report on general education by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, titled What Will They Learn? The group has set out to illustrate the failings of America’s colleges in requiring students to learn essential subjects over the course of their education…

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Public high school grads struggle at college

New data show GPAs decline markedly, raising questions about whether students are prepared for demands of higher education, the Chicago Tribune reports. Ariana Taylor thought she was ready for college after taking Advanced Placement physics and English at her Chicago public high school and graduating with a 3.2 GPA. Instead, at Illinois State University, she was overwhelmed by her course load and the demands of college. Her GPA freshman year dropped to 2.7—and that was significantly better than other graduates from Morgan Park High School, who averaged a 1.75 at Illinois State…

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Student’s suit says Webster U. dumped him for lacking empathy

A former Webster University student who was studying to be a family counselor says in a lawsuit that he was dismissed from a master’s degree program after it was determined that he lacked empathy, STLToday.com reports. The suit, which claims up to $1 million in losses and seeks at least $2 million in punitive damages, alleges the school dismissed him quickly rather than help him improve his empathy to complete the field work required for graduating…

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Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi join forces in displays

The display businesses of three major Japanese electronics makers are joining forces to become more competitive in small and medium-sized panels—a sector that’s expected to grow because of the popularity of smartphones and tablets, the Associated Press reports. The display-business subsidiaries of Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. agreed to sign a deal later this year and to complete the business combination by the first few months of next year, the companies said Wednesday…

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Dangerous Colorado State University megaparty fueled by social media

The party's Facebook page had nearly 3,000 registered people. Police estimated at least 2,000 people showed up at the complex.

An apartment complex near Colorado State University that used Facebook to advertise “the biggest pool party of the year'” got more than it bargained for–at least 2,000 people, most of them college students, showed up.

It wasn’t long before the police followed.

Four people, including two CSU football players, were arrested at the Fort Collins apartment complex on Saturday. Ten people were taken to the hospital, most of them for overconsumption of alcohol or minor injuries.

“Some people came from as far away as Denver for this back-to-school party,” Fort Collins police Lt. Hal Dean said on Monday.

The party’s Facebook page had nearly 3,000 registered people. Dean said police estimated at least 2,000 people showed up at the complex about 65 miles north of Denver. Officers had to shut down surrounding streets while they cleared the complex.

The use of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to spread word of everything from parties to freedom movements has increased exponentially in recent months. In some cases, the events have led to street trouble.

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Model online school gets big gift from Gates Foundation

WGU Indiana students graduate in an average of two and a half years.

An expanding online university that allows students to move through coursework based on competency, not just class credits, received a $4.5 million grant that will be used to bolster its web-based programs in Indiana, Washington state, and Texas.

Western Governors University (WGU), a Utah-based nonprofit online school formed in 1999 with about 20,000 students nationwide, announced Aug. 29 that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had awarded the grant in support of the university’s newest statewide programs.

Read more about the Gates Foundation in higher education…

Gates Foundation launches $20 million program to expand technology use

Gates Foundation focuses on college graduation

WGU’s first subsidiary, WGU Indiana, was made available in early 2010 to any qualified Indiana resident interested in the school’s four colleges: business, information technology, health professions, and teachers college.

The Gates Foundation, known for its prolific grants to K-12 schools and college initiatives, selected WGU’s subsidiary programs largely because students there can advance toward a degree by demonstrating knowledge and skills, rather than taking redundant credit hours, said Hilary Pennington, the foundation’s director of postsecondary success.

“College students have changed, and it’s time higher education made some changes to keep up with them,” said Pennington, adding that the foundation awarded the grant to WGU “because they have a strong track record of providing a high-quality, affordable, and flexible college experience that meets the needs of today’s students.”

Students enrolled in WGU Indiana classes pay about $6,000 a year, according to the university. Shortly after WGU Indiana’s launch, a legislator in Washington state called for an identical online model there, and lawmakers in other states expressed interest.

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Ex-Apple exec wants to make textbooks like computers

Inkling, a digital textbook company started by ex-Apple education exec Matt MacInnis, wants to make textbooks more like computers, reports the Huffington Post. MacInnis told HuffPost that e-textbooks should be specially converted for digital consumption. They should be more, he said, “than just flat scans of the original material” — a not-so-subtle dig at Inkling’s main competitor, digital textbook seller Kno. What makes Inkling’s textbooks better, MacInnis said with a bit of braggadocio, is that they “change the way information is consumed.”

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Teaching aids research skills of grad students, study says

Graduate students in the “hard” sciences who teach in addition to engaging in research greatly improve their research skills compared with graduate students who undertook research alone, according to a new study, reports the New York Times. The study, published last week in the journal Science, found that “teaching experience can contribute substantially to the improvement of essential research skills.” Researchers on the study came from the University of Virginia, the University of South Carolina, the University of Texas at Austin and Zayed University, in the United Arab Emirates…

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