Our previous segment of this ongoing series offered a front-lines, first-person view of a teacher’s experience with using eTextbooks in class. In our second installment, we look more broadly at how faculty perceive digital course material options and offer advice for generating more interest in digital on campus. Our goal: provide our collegiate retail readers with insight that eases communication with faculty about cost-saving options that can boost student success.
Many in higher education turn to college store professionals for wisdom about how digital innovation can lower student costs and boost academic success. That puts retailers — who are also textbook industry experts — in the middle of a lively campus debate about whether ed tech benefits students.
Often, administrators want faculty to consider integrating digital solutions like OER, eTexts, courseware and inclusive access. Their aim: lower student costs, boost sell-through and increase student achievement. But many faculty members hesitate to consider digital options. The disagreement between faculty and administrators creates a challenge for collegiate retailers who have been tasked with reducing student costs.
Research about faculty views of educational technology offers useful insight that may explain why some teachers are reluctant to adopt lower-cost course material options. Armed with knowledge of faculty perceptions (and misperceptions), collegiate retailers can have more influence on the way teachers, departments and entire campuses approach digital innovation.
Conflicting views of digital’s potential among faculty and administrators
The 2018 Inside Higher Education Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology offers a snapshot of current beliefs about ed tech among teachers in higher education. For the annual survey, IHE worked with Gallup to gather data from 2,129 faculty at two and four-year colleges nationwide. It asked a wide range of questions about educational technology, including online courses, digital courseware, texts and inclusive access
The IHE survey responses depict a clash of beliefs between faculty and administrators about the promise of ed tech solutions. More than 60 percent of those surveyed indicated that they regard promotions for emerging digital solutions with suspicion.
When faculty were asked about the benefits digital may offer students —
>>65% agreed with the statement: “administrators and vendors exaggerate the potential financial benefits”
>>70% agreed that administrators and vendors “play down the risks to [course] quality”
Less than one-quarter of the surveyed faculty said they believe digital tools can lower costs without harming instruction. More than 75 percent indicated that if a technology lowers costs, it will reduce the quality of education offered.
Faculty attitudes toward education technology
Other survey data offers hope for believers in the promise of educational technology. Even if faculty doubt the word of vendors and administrators, most said that they would like to see an increase in classroom technology usage in the coming years. Meanwhile, the number of teachers in higher education with online course teaching experience leaped from 30 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2018.
>>75% of faculty said they favor an increase classroom tech usage
>>44% of faculty indicated they have taught at least one online course
The increased proportion of instructors with online experience has likely affected the number of teachers who are open to experimenting with digital options. Over half of those with online teaching experience said digital courses can provide the same quality of instruction as brick-and-mortar classrooms. Only 20 percent of those in the general population believed that was possible.
Perceptions of digital vs. realities
It’s true that not all publishers offer digital content at prices significantly lower than used or new print editions. However, that doesn’t mean digital innovation has not had a positive impact on college costs or boosted academic success.
The National Association of College Stores (NACS) reported that students spent an average of nearly $100 less on course materials in the 2017-2018 academic year. Ella McCollum, the NACS vice president of research and consulting, attributed this drop partly to increased usage of digital.
“Students are still purchasing roughly the same amount of course materials, but are spending less due to increased use of free and lower-cost digital and rental materials,” she said.
This research suggests that it’s no exaggeration to say that digital texts can offer students significant financial relief. Far from lowering the quality of instruction, classes that include free or lower-cost digital materials may further academic success.
Over 90 percent of students who skip course material purchases do so because of price, according to VitalSource. Meanwhile, 80 percent of surveyed faculty said that students who obtain the required course materials earn better grades in a 2016 Nielsen study, Faculty Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education.
A recent report from Barnes & Noble College argues that course material selection and delivery can have a critical impact on student equity. The students who can afford textbooks perform better in class, while those who cannot afford them miss out on essential aspects of their college education. All this data suggest that collegiate retailers can find allies on campus who will support their efforts to reduce student costs with digital innovations.
Collegiate retailers may not have control over faculty adoption choices, but their industry knowledge has tremendous value to colleges hoping to lower course material costs. Our next edition of the Digital Text classroom highlights powerful talking points that support lower-cost digital course material innovations. Click here to read our first article in the Foreword Online Digital Text Classroom series.