eCampus News July/August 2012

Colleges taking a team approach to eTextbook

Top News
eLearning programs get a reprieve

Software channels ‘Hollywood Squares’ to boost engagement

Best Practices
Earning a degree with competency, not credits
Wisconsin program a first for public universities in a move aimed to cut student costs.

Reducing your total cost of IT ownership
A new online resource aims to help you reduce your TCO and make smarter IT decisions.

What colleges can learn from students’ Facebook chatter
Social media analysis could help schools better use Facebook to communicate with students.



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The key to a good GPA? Getting enough ZZZs

Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression.

As college students return to campus, some schools are giving them what a growing body of research reveals could make a huge difference in their college careers: ear plugs, sleep shades, and napping lessons.

College health officials finally are realizing that healthy sleep habits are a potential miracle drug for much of what ails the famously frazzled modern American college student: anxiety, depression, physical health problems, and—more than most students realize—academic troubles.

Some studies have found that students getting adequate sleep average a full letter grade higher than those who don’t.

But adolescent biorhythms make it hard enough for college students to get the sleep they need, a recommended nine hours. On top of that, campus life turns out to resemble a giant laboratory experiment designed for maximum sleep deprivation: irregular schedules, newfound freedom, endless social interaction, loud and crowded housing, late-night exercise, and food washed down by booze, coffee, or energy drinks.

Campuses pulsing with energy at midnight by mid-afternoon resemble Zombie U, with students dozing off in library chairs, on yoga mats, and even in coffee shops.

Technology isn’t helping, either, with wireless internet adding to the 24/7 distractions and students sleeping with their smart phones on. That likely helps explain data showing college students got about eight hours of sleep in the 1960s and 70s, seven by the 80s, and, according to more recent surveys, closer to six these days.

Now, some counselors and health officials are trying to get the message out in creative ways. At tiny Hastings College in Nebraska, student peer educators plop down a bed in the middle of the student union, dress themselves in pajamas, and talk to passers-by about sleep.

Macalester College in Minnesota publishes a “nap map” listing the pros and cons of various campus snooze sites. And many schools are offering seminars on napping (basic lesson: short naps work better).

The University of Louisville is even planning a campus-wide “flash nap”—think of a flash mob but with sleeping, not dancing—later in the school year. (“We have to arrange in it advance so our public safety folks know it’s not an epidemic of something,” said director of health promotion Karen Newton.)

Still, given the scope of sleeping problems, what’s surprising is that such efforts are exceptional. Major, campus-wide campaigns appear rare or non-existent. Experts say professors (and doctors) aren’t always good sleep role models. As for deans and administrators, many seem hesitant to tell parents who’ve just dropped $50,000 on tuition that the big push on campus this year will be for everyone to sleep more.


Software glitch freezes aid for thousands of students

$77 million has been distributed to about 12,500 of the 14,000 students who are supposed to get it.

Washington State University officials are still working to clean up a financial aid mess partially caused by the implementation of a new, multimillion-dollar student information software program called Zzusis.

The problem surfaced on the first day of school, Aug. 20, and prevented thousands of students from getting their financial aid. The software problem was fixed the next day, said university spokesman Darin Watkins, but by then officials already were behind.

Ten days into school, some students are still waiting.

“It’s like a superhighway,” Watkins said. “Even though you cleared the accident up on the side of the road, there’s still backup on the freeway for miles, and that’s what we’re facing right now. We’re still trying to untangle all the backup from the financial aid that was supposed to have been processed by the first day.”

So far, financial aid totaling $77 million has been distributed to about 12,500 of the 14,000 students who are supposed to get it, he said, adding it’s not unusual to have students sorting out financial aid issues into October for a variety of reasons.

In the meantime, Watkins said, the school offered short-term loans up to $2,000 with interest waived. WSU staff also have been calling and writing letters to landlords about individual students who can’t pay rent immediately but do have money coming. They also set up a phone bank to deal with the high volume of calls without pulling financial aid employees away from their posts.

The new software, Zzusis, uses Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions software as its infrastructure, which was then customized for WSU. Watkins said Oracle consultants visited WSU after the financial aid fiasco. Oracle declined to comment.

“They’re looking at the systems to see if there are any suggestions or changes so we can make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Watkins said, adding that WSU did not have to pay the consultants in addition to the $15 million the software cost to begin with. “They came in on their own volition. They’ve got a vested interest in this as much as we do.”

The financial aid problems weren’t the only ones to arise since the Zzusis switch.

Some students weren’t recognized in the system. Some students were classified as out of state when they were supposed to be charged an in-state rate. Some transfer students’ credits weren’t transferred to the new system, and they were unenrolled from classes.


Harvard says 125 students may have cheated on a final exam

Harvard University revealed Thursday what could be its largest cheating scandal in memory, saying that about 125 students might have worked in groups on a take-home final exam despite being explicitly required to work alone, the New York Times reports. The accusations, related to a single undergraduate class in the spring semester, deal with “academic dishonesty, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism,” the administration said in a note sent to students. Officials said that nearly half of the more than 250 students in the class were under investigation by the Harvard College Administrative Board and that if they were found to have cheated, they could be suspended for a year. The students have been notified that they are suspected and will be called to give their accounts in investigative hearings…

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Survey: Back-to-college clothing is more important than tablets

If you’re a college student, it’s likely you’ve purchased some new fall wardrobe staples rather than a tablet this school year, Mashable reports. This latest inforgraphic from social media agency MRY titled, “Back-to-College 2012” shows us how today’s college students shop for back-to-school items and how they’ve prioritized their purchases. Students spend an average of $900 during this time of year (this figure comes from research conducted by which is the digital/e-commerce division of the National Retail Federation.) Students lean toward buying must-have items like laptops, software and books, but above all, fall clothing (61% of purchases). Only 13% of college students say they spent their back-to-school funds on tablets. According to the survey, college students prefer brick-and-mortar stores to online shops when buying their back-to-school items, especially big-box retailers like Target and Walmart where they can buy many types of items in one trip. But they welcome digital help for shopping advice. College students turn to Facebook when it comes to talking about back to school shopping (88%), only second to talking about desired purchases in-person (97%). More than half of students reached out to a brand directly on Facebook (55%)…

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Fears in Taiwan over downside of education boom

When Hsu Chung-hsin went to university three decades ago he became part of a small elite in Taiwan. Now virtually everyone can enter higher education, the AFP reports. That, he thinks, is deplorable.

“It’s become so easy. As long as you’re willing to pay the tuition, you can go to university. That’s no good,” said Hsu, a legislator with a PhD in law from Cambridge.

“It doesn’t influence the top universities. It’s the low-end universities that are affected. Their quality is low. The teaching is not so serious and the students are not so hard-working.”

Declining birth rates and an explosion in the number of universities — there are more than 160 for a population of 23 million — mean the vast majority of high school students gain entry to higher education. Taiwan had a total of 1.35 million university students at the end of June 2012, according to Ministry of Education figures…

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Obama courts college students returning to campus

Obama spoke Aug. 28 at Iowa State University and Colorado State University.

As college students return to campus, President Barack Obama’s campaign will be there waiting for them.

Obama aides sees college campuses as fertile ground for registering and recruiting some of the more than 15 million young people who have become eligible to vote since the 2008 election.

As Republicans hold their party convention in Florida this week, the president will make a personal appeal to college voters in three university towns: Ames, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Charlottesville, Va.

Obama’s victory four years ago was propelled in part by his overwhelming support among college-aged voters, and polls show him leading Republican rival Mitt Romney with that group in this year’s race.

But the president faces an undeniable challenge as he seeks to convince young people that he is the right steward for the economy as they eye a shaky postgraduation job market.

Seeking to overcome that economic uncertainty, Obama’s campus staffers and volunteers are touting the president’s positions on social issues, like gay rights, that garner significant support among young people. Obama has stressed his effort to freeze the interest rates on new federal student loans, a pitch he personalizes by reminding voters that he and the first lady were once buried under a “mountain” of student loan debt after law school.

They also see a fresh opportunity to court students—and their parents—following Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate. Democrats say Ryan’s budget would cut funding for Pell Grants, the federal need-based program for students, and Obama’s campaign is running television advertisements in battleground states trying to link Romney to that plan.

Campaigning last week at Capital University in Ohio, Obama told students that Romney’s economic plan “makes one thing clear: He does not think investing in your future is worth it. He doesn’t think that’s a good investment. I do.”

Obama spoke Aug. 28 at Iowa State University and Colorado State University. The University of Virginia rejected his campaign’s request to hold an event on campus Aug. 29, saying it would cause the cancellation or disruption of classes on the second day of the semester. The event was instead being held at an off-campus pavilion in Charlottesville.

Romney’s campaign sees an opportunity to cut into the president’s support among young people by pushing a three-pronged economic argument focusing on the nation’s high unemployment rate, the soaring cost of college and the national debt.

“These kids haven’t even entered the workforce and they already owe the government a bill for the debt Obama has rung up,” said Joshua Baca, the Romney campaign’s national coalitions director.

Obama campaign officials say the start of the new school year is a particularly crucial time to ramp up college registration and make sure those new voters get to the polls.


Turnitin Adds Common Core Grading Rubrics to GradeMark

Turnitin Adds Common Core Grading Rubrics to GradeMark

Correlated rubrics developed by Education Council to assess student writing

OAKLAND, Calif. – Aug. 29, 2012Turnitin, the leader in originality checking and online grading, announced the addition of writing rubrics aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to its award-winning cloud-based grading service, GradeMark. The six rubrics are available today within Turnitin for secondary and two-year instructors in the United States. View this videofor more information on the Common Core rubrics.

Turnitin will host a free webcast on Thursday, Sept. 6 at 4 p.m. ET to discuss the development process and goals of the Common Core rubrics. Register here to attend the webcast titled “Partners in Education: Creating Common Core Rubrics.”

“With 45 of 50 states adopting the Common Core, these standards are as close to a national writing standard as we have seen,” said Jason Chu, senior education manager for Turnitin. “The addition of Common Core Rubrics within Turnitin will help schools implement the standards and improve student writing.”

The rubrics were developed in partnership with the English Professional Learning Council to better prepare secondary students for college-level course work. The Council is comprised of educators from Saddleback College, the University of California (Irvine), California State University (Fullerton), and the Orange County Department of Education.

The Council assisted Turnitin in developing six CCSS-aligned writing rubrics for grades 9-10 and 11-12 for argumentative, narrative and informative essay assignments. Instructors using GradeMark can attach a standard CCSS rubric to any writing assignment to convey their expectations to students, assess submitted work, and track student progress.

“The Common Core rubrics allow instructors at all levels to promote more success in student writing,” said Dawn Lewis, instructor at Aliso Niguel High School in Capistrano Unified School District. “The rubrics help narrow the expectations and language gap, especially for assessment, between secondary education and higher education.”

About Turnitin
Turnitin is the global leader in evaluating and improving student writing. The company’s cloud-based service for originality checking, online grading and peer review saves instructors time and provides rich feedback to students. One of the most widely distributed educational applications in the world, Turnitin is used by more than 10,000 institutions in 126 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of student papers online. Turnitin also offers iThenticate, a plagiarism detection service for commercial markets, and WriteCheck, a suite of formative tools for writers. Turnitin is backed by Warburg Pincus and is headquartered in Oakland, Calif., with an international office in Newcastle, U.K. For more information, please visit

• Chris Harrick, Vice President of Marketing, 510-764-7579,

• Emily Embury, C. Blohm & Associates, 608-216-7300 x19,


Pell peril: The fading significance of the ladder to college

The federal Pell Grant program was designed to help college students coming from low-income families afford the high cost of going to college without getting buried in debt, the Huffington Post reports. But the Pell Grant now covers less than one-third of the cost of attendance at public four-year university, the lowest in its history. Where the maximum Pell Grant once covered the entire cost of obtaining a two-year degree and 77 percent of the cost at a public university in 1980, it now covers only 62 percent of the cost of a two-year degree and 36 percent towards a public four-year degree. Even though the Pell Grant has never covered such a small fraction, it’s been subject to repeated attempts to cut it and make sure it continues to shrink in the future. At the same time, the cost of college is projected to increase faster than inflation. Meghan McClean, director of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the Great Recession has created a “perfect storm”: More people are going back to school, states have scaled back higher education support, and tuition is growing faster than the Pell Grant can keep up…

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