In the last five years, more faculty at higher education institutions are choosing to make the shift from the use of print to digital textbooks, according to new research by Bay View Analytics.
The report, “Inflection Point: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education,” found that more faculty members now prefer to use digital materials. It also found that colleges and universities across the country are growing increasingly concerned with the cost of materials for their students. Additionally, more faculty are realizing that many of their students often skip reading required texts because they can’t afford them.
“We are in the midst of a transition in the way that course materials are distributed and I think this report really highlights that transition,” said Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).
According to Bay View’s research, 55% of faculty reported that cost was the primary reason some students could not access course materials, and 37% of faculty said that students didn’t think they needed the course materials.
Less than a third of faculty reported that their students preferred print; more believed their students wanted to use digital resources. And faculty are more likely to prefer digital materials for graduate courses than at the undergraduate level, the report said. Additionally, those who teach online or blended courses favored the use of digital resources.
The preference for either digital or print also varied by discipline. Almost half of education, computer and information science faculty preferred digital materials over print ones. On the other hand, only 15% of faculty members teaching history and government said they preferred digital over print, according to the report.
Over 80% of both groups of faculty agree that the cost of course materials is a serious problem, the research said.
To increase access to course materials, more institutions have started using Open Educational Resources (OER) to address affordability issues among students.
The report defines OER as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”
OER can include full courses, textbooks, tests, streaming videos or other materials for course work.
“[It] creates more opportunities for students to get access to materials and formats that are more flexible and free or low cost and give more instructors a lot more academic freedom to shape the materials used in the classroom,” said SPARC’s Allen.
She said the conversation surrounding affordability needs to discuss both option and choice. With the push towards digital subscriptions and materials, publishing companies take a number of choices away for students. She “worries” that eliminating choices would make textbooks less affordable in the long run.
“Right now, how students acquire traditional materials is definitely not perfect,” she said. “There are lots of problems with affordability but at least under the current system, a student who wants to purchase an expensive, new print copy can make that choice and a student who wants to borrow a copy or seek out an older edition has the option to do that as well.”
“Within this changing environment, faculty concerns about cost to the student continues to grow,” said Dr. Julia Seaman, research director for Bay View Analytics, in a statement. “More faculty are adopting OER.”
According to Bay View’s research, 19% more faculty are now aware of OER compared to four years ago.
The research found that faculty members who implemented OER in their classroom rated the quality as equal to that of other commercial alternatives. Additionally, those faculty members were more likely to prefer digital resources, because OER materials are more readily available online. And faculty who knew about various OER initiatives were three to four times as likely to use them compared to those who aren’t aware of them, the report said.
However, although there is more recognition with the term OER within the higher education sector, many faculty members still remain unfamiliar with licensing protocols or how to use the materials. Despite OER’s benefit of the “5Rs” also known as retain, revise, remix, reuse and redistribute, which offers flexibility, faculty members still choose to use other commercial materials.
SPARC’s Allen said it is important for institutions to understand that the choices for digital resources being made now are going to design the future.
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].