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TEXTBOOK EXPENSES: When it comes to undergraduate majors, some reading lists cost more than others. So says conservative think tank Priceonomics, which surveyed the cost of nearly 5,000 textbooks for more than 750 courses offered at the University of Virginia this term. Economics majors at UVA can expect to spend an average $317 on textbooks alone. The class that will set you back the least? African American studies, totaling $80 for the semester's worth of books.

On the other end of the spectrum: Biochem, whose $406 textbook is the most expensive one in the university's bookstore. And if that's not enough to chase students into Modern Poetry, get this: math and science books have a paltry resale value. Accounting classes have an especially bad balance sheet, with used texts selling for 10% of the original price. But hang on to those Music titles; used volumes retain 68% of their value.

Soaring textbook prices are nothing new; they've risen more than 800% since 1978. The College Board estimates that undergraduates already spend about $1200 on books yearly, a hurdle that many students find increasingly difficult to clear. Buying and renting used books and stalking the library provide short-term fixes. Long-term solutions are another discussion entirely.

ALMOST THERE: Amazon’s efforts to create an e-book marketplace for New York City’s Department of Education has been put on hold, after concerns that readers with visual impairments will not be able to access the tool. In a letter sent to department chancellor Carmen Fariña, the National Federation of the Blind noted that:

Amazon’s lack of regard for accessibility when creating Kindle e-book content would leave blind students and teachers far behind their sighted peers if NYC DOE chooses to proceed with the proposed contract with Amazon.

An Aug. 26 meeting to approve the deal, which could be worth $30 million over three years, has been postponed. A NYC DOE spokeswoman told NY Daily News that the department will create a new plan for e-books this fall. She added: “We are working closely with Amazon and community partners to ensure that all school communities—including those serving visually impaired students—will be able to take part.”

CHEATERS NEVER PROSPER. But you can’t say they’re not putting some effort in their attempts to game the system. Researchers from Harvard and MIT found one devilishly simple way that MOOC learners are cheating: create dummy accounts to scrape materials and tests for the right answers, then use the primary account to complete the course get the certificate.

What tipped the researchers off: students who answered test questions “faster than is humanly possible,” according to MIT News. This tactic, dubbed “copying answers using multiple existences online” (CAMEO), was used in some 69 of the 115 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT from 2012 to 2015. In some courses, as many as 5 percent of students who earned certificates may have used this tactic.

MONEY DOESN’T ALWAYS TALK: Noted Harvard economist Roland Fryer has shown that you cannot pay kids to get good grades. But what about parents? He, along with fellow economists Steven Levitt and John List, paid parents based on how their kids performed on benchmark tests and homework, and how often they attended student-parent sessions. Parents could earn up to $7,000 a year.

What they found: “a modest and statistically insignificant effect on cognitive scores and a large and statistically significant impact on noncognitive achievement” such as memory and self-control. Breaking down the results by race “reveals that Hispanic and White students do extremely well as a result of the intervention, but that Blacks gain nothing.” The trio offer several theories for this difference but find no conclusive explanation. Bloomberg offers a summary of the most significant findings.

Data Privacy Issues Stir Interest

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FOR THE RECORD: You may know Brady Fukumoto from his pieces on educational games, or his coding on EdSurge’s new navbar and news sector pages. What you may not know is that he is also an obsessive gamer. Having beaten nearly every Final Fantasy from IV to XIII (including X-2 and VII:CC but excluding XI and XII), Fukumoto knew he was in for a completion challenge when he saw Final Fantasy Record Keeper (FFRK) announced on the iOS app store. He attests:

Final Fantasy games are a guilty pleasure of mine. With proper preparation and analysis, the frequent random encounters and big boss fights become virtually automatic. Sort of like setting up a line of dominoes then watching them cascade. FFRK takes the battle mechanics of Final Fantasy, removes the story, cranks up the nostalgia, and doles it out in weekly bite-sized chunks. For a Final Fantasy Fan like me, it’s like a Phoenix Down straight to the heart.

Now, most of these type of mobile games are designed to be never ending, with new content being regularly released as long as the game remains profitable. Fukumoto, however, claims to have beaten FFRK and cites the following screenshot as evidence.

That sound you hear is the microphone dropping.

When asked what he plans to do with his hour-long BART rides from Berkeley to EdSurge HQ in Burlingame now that he’s retired from FFRK, Fukumoto replied, “I’m getting out of Dodge for about a week, but when I come back I’ve got something big planned that I think EdSurge readers are going to love.”

Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy

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TOO COOL (PERFECT FOR SCHOOL): We've got our favorite edtech teacher and administrator tools for the week right here, as highlighted in our Instruct newsletter. By the way--got a favorite S’Cool Tool you like to use? We would love to hear and share your recommendations! If you’ve got a tool that makes you or your students sing from the proverbial mountaintops, fill out this form to let us know. It might just get featured!

Free! Music teachers and lovers, are you listening? We’ve got an app just for you. BandBlast from MusicLifeboat.org contains 350+ videos from musicians, musical theory mini-games, and a built-in recorder to help you learn the basics of music and sight-reading. Available on the App Store and the Google Play Store, it’ll get you strumming along--and perhaps picking up some mathematically-minded skills along the way.

Free! Staying organized is a lot harder than you’d think, especially when you’ve got papers to grade, a mess of lesson planning to do, and any semblance of a life outside of school. Luckily, you’ve got Google Sheets to help keep data and information in check, but a new tool--Airtable--allows you to do even more with your spreadsheet savvy. Unlike Google Sheets, Airtable lets you create connections between different tables, and mix and match different types of data--like adding a photo field alongside a numeric field.

Freemium: Fantasy football + geography and social studies = some good old learning fun. That’s essentially the gist of Fantasy Geopolitics, a social studies game in which students draft countries and earn points as they track current events. So who are you rooting for? The Patriots? Japan? The island of Guam? Pricing is free for 0-5 players, and then starts to go up from there.

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