Transition to digital: Improving access, affordability and achievement in higher education

Female college student sitting at a desk with two piles of books and her hands over her face

… and important steps to help you get there!

With the increasing cost of a post-secondary education, many students opt to delay or completely forego purchase of required course materials to save money. As a result, learners’ ability to effectively engage in class without immediate access to course materials is stunted, putting them at a disadvantage compared to peers who have access to essential course materials. To address this challenge, innovative institutions across the country are transitioning to digital delivery of course materials to ensure that every student has access to essential course materials from the first day of class at an affordable price. In the process, faculty and administration are gaining valuable insights into student performance. Using digital course materials provides massive amounts of data about students’ activities and learning and educators are able to harness the power of that data to transform learner outcomes and achievement.

Helping students engage from day one

More than 80 institutions around the country partnered with Pearson in 2016 to implement the Inclusive Access  model, which enables schools to deliver high-quality digital course materials to their students on the first day of class at a more affordable cost. Through this model, students are provided with an upfront course fee for materials, which are then delivered digitally, resulting in reduced costs for learners and increasing equitable access to the content. An equally important benefit to students is the convenience that the Inclusive Access model provides, as it eliminates the time consuming task of having to research options for acquiring their course materials. Effectively addressing pain points associated with both cost and convenience, this model helps to ensure each student is prepared to succeed on the first day of class.

Digital direct access in action

The University of California, Davis, (UC Davis) and its award-winning Inclusive Access initiative has saved students $3.4 million in course materials expenses over the last two years. The pioneering approach to digital distribution of course materials and reducing student expenses was designed in partnership with Pearson through the company’s Inclusive Access model, as well as other digital content providers. The initiative earned UC Davis the 2016 University of California Larry L. Sautter Award for Innovation in Information Technology, which was established in 2000 to encourage and recognize innovative deployment of information technology in support of the university’s mission. The program also won the Innovation Achievement Award from the National Association of College Stores Foundation in the spring of 2016.

Created to provide students with direct access to digital course materials through the campus bookstore, UC Davis launched the initiative with Pearson and other providers in 2014. Since then, the university has digitally delivered required course materials for more than 170 courses, and more than 45,000 students have engaged with this program. UC Davis typically delivers required course content for 40 or more courses per quarter using this model, a number that continues to grow.

Indiana University’s eText initiative has saved students more than $15 million since 2009, leveraging Unizin’s Engage digital learning platform along with publishers’ proprietary content, including Pearson content, to deliver course materials to students.

At Algonquin College, the Inclusive Access model gives all students registered for a course access to the learning materials. After two years, the number of e-textbooks used has increased from 2,300 to 32,000. Approximately 50 percent of Algonquin’s programs are using e-textbooks, reaching 10,000 students. Faculty feedback on the increased accessibility has been positive. In addition, providing learners with direct access has decreased student textbook costs by an astounding 40 percent.

Key considerations – preparing to make the move to digital

Since every campus is unique, the goals and needs of one campus moving to digital delivery of course materials may be different from another. Engaging key stakeholders across the campus to understand considerations and concerns that need to be addressed is crucial. The following are four key areas of consideration that other campuses have found important to address as part of their own initiatives:

Faculty

Will faculty require complete academic freedom in the choice of course materials, as well as the delivery format of course materials? Schools have supported this by working across multiple publishers and making participation in all-digital models opt-in only. What materials will faculty want to include in their digital materials? And finally, how can this initiative be supported by existing or expanded faculty development programs?

Technology

Has the campus or bookstore adopted a standard eBook platform? Does the institution allow a “Bring Your Own Device” to school policy? Whatever the platform choice may be, the institution will want to make sure that all course materials are accessible across all devices. How will students and faculty want content to integrate with the campus LMS?

Student

While many students find that the use of e-textbooks is easier and provides more benefits than expected, many still prefer having access to a print copy. What do students on campus prefer and how can the institution best support their needs? Some campuses allow for student printing materials on an as-needed basis, while others offer a basic loose-leaf copy. Do students on campus primarily work on laptops or are many using mobile devices? Do students require access to course materials online as well as offline? How long will students require access to course materials—just for the semester, or will they need these materials in future classes?

Institutional

While most states allow college and university systems to set their own course fee regulations, some have more stringent guidelines for when fees are implemented. The regulations within a state can impact the timeline required to implement a shift to digital delivery.

 

Overall, moving toward a more digital campus takes thoughtful planning around an institution’s goals and needs. Implementing a plan to develop buy-in and acceptance through proactive communication with stakeholders is critical. Through careful planning, implementation and on-going refinement of strategies, institutions can grow their campus’ digital footprint, reduce textbook costs, and improve student access to course materials which provides the added value of convenience, and gain deeper insights into student performance and needs for early intervention through data analysis.

 

Emerging EdTech originally published this blog post on October 26, 2016, and it was re-published here with permission.