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Faculty in No Rush to Adopt Digital or OER Curriculum

Even as the transition to digital course content "seems inevitable" on campus, not everybody is so sure. Nearly a fourth of faculty (24 percent) in a recent survey said that curricula they use in their classes will never be primarily digital. A slightly higher proportion (27 percent) said the digital movement wouldn't happen in their courses until at least fall 2018; and 17 percent reported that it could take until fall 2020.

A subset of digital content, open educational resources (OER), doesn't even show up on the radar of most educators. A full three quarters said they'd either never heard of OER or knew a little but had never used it or reviewed it for use in their classes. Another 10 percent said they'd reviewed it but decided against its use. Only 15 percent had used OER in courses.

How soon before the materials in your courses will be primarily digital?

Source: Independent College Bookstore Association, Going Digital: Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER Course Materials

These are some of the findings that surfaced in a survey of 2,902 college and university faculty at 29 institutions during fall 2015 and winter 2016. Respondents were solicited through e-mail invitations sent to faculty from their local college bookstore. The survey was conducted by the Campus Computing Project for the Independent College Bookstore Association. The results were released today during ICBA's annual conference, taking place in Orlando, FL.

The key influencers for faculty as they make decisions about course materials are quality and student cost. A whopping 97 percent of respondents "identified their own assessment of quality as the top issue in their selection of course materials" — ranked important or very important. Cost of the course materials was specified by 86 percent of those surveyed. Comments from colleagues or comments from students or teacher assistants were ranked important or very important by 71 percent of faculty.

Availability of course materials in digital format, on the other hand, came in quite low. Only 36 percent said that was important or very important for required textbooks. A slightly higher number, 41 percent, said the same of other supplemental instructional materials.

Most of the faculty queried for the survey (79 percent) held the view that digital course materials "generally cost less" for their students. But only 44 percent said they believed that digital curriculum was "preferred" by students and 28 percent said the digital approach could have a "beneficial impact" on learning outcomes compared to print.

When asked what would inspire them to select OER materials for their classes, "high quality" ranked as important or very important among 74 percent of respondents. Low cost of OER came in second with 71 percent. Having the ability to "remix" OER materials was appealing to 65 percent of participants. And finding OER easily online was chosen by 57 percent of faculty.

Even though there's overall disinclination toward digital curricula, the same can't be said for content that's adaptive. Just over two-thirds (69 percent) of the survey participants agreed that they have used or would like to use "curricular materials that make use of adaptive learning technologies."

"The survey data reveal a core conundrum regarding cost and access to digital course materials especially OER materials," said Kenneth Green, head of the Campus Computing Project, in his report, Going Digital: Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER Course Materials. "Faculty overwhelmingly report that a major benefit of going digital is the lower cost of course materials. Yet many faculty, especially in community colleges, also report that their students don't own the tech platforms required access digital content. Consequently, the students who might benefit most from lower-cost digital and OER course materials are not able to do so."

As the report noted, "While the transition from print to digital course materials may be inevitable, these new survey data make two things clear. First is that the pace of this change is much slower than anticipated by publishers, administrators and campus IT professionals. And, second, most faculty are not convinced that digital products have a positive impact on student learning outcomes."

The complete results, including breakdowns by type of institution, age of respondent and faculty employment status, are available on the Campus Computing Project site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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