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Faculty Usage of Digital Course Materials Falls Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

While many colleges and universities turned to digital course materials to serve the needs of remote learners during the pandemic, faculty usage of e-textbooks and other digital content has decreased now that classes have resumed in-person instruction, according to the latest "Faculty Watch" survey from the National Association of College Stores. In 2021, 54% of faculty respondents used e-books for their courses, down from 62% in 2020, and 64% used digital content in the learning management system, down from 84% in 2020. What's more, faculty members' comfort level using digital content has also gone down: In 2021, just 46% reported feeling very or extremely comfortable with using digital content, compared to 60% in 2020.  

Faculty Watch is an annual survey performed by OnCampus Research, NACS' research arm, to gauge faculty members' attitudes and behaviors toward print and digital course materials. For the 2021 report, the researchers surveyed 1,650 faculty members at 19 two- and four-year institutions in the United States and Canada.

Faculty members' top reasons for not using digital content:

  • 47% said they are satisfied with the non-digital content they're already using;
  • 34% said digital content is not suitable for the course they teach;
  • 28% prefer not to use digital content;
  • 23% said digital content is too expensive;
  • 18% cited the quality of the content;
  • 14% said digital content is difficult to integrate into their course; and
  • 12% cited lack of student interest.

While faculty use of digital course materials declined, the use of new technology increased. Eighty-two percent of faculty said they used technology in 2021 that they had not used before the pandemic — more than in the first year of the pandemic. Among that group, the majority (97%) plan to continue using at least some of the technology in the future.

The most commonly used new technologies were:

  • Video or text chatting (cited by 73% of respondents);
  • New lecture recording or transcribing technology (50%)
  • New computer/mobile/display device or accessory (42%);
  • Software or devices to boost student interaction (40%);
  • Digital course materials (37%); and
  • Learning management systems (28%).

Most faculty got help from their institution in learning how to use these new technologies, the report noted. "This points to institutions doing a better job helping faculty learn about new technologies in higher education in 2021, compared to the narrative that came out of 2020," the researchers said.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Faculty members' preference for print course materials did not change in 2021 compared to 2020: 42% of faculty surveyed said they prefer either standalone print materials or print with a digital component.
  • More than 90% of faculty reported they are aware of open educational resources, an increase from the previous year. However, actual usage of OER remained flat at 37%.
  • More than half of faculty have used an inclusive access program (in which all students access course materials by the first day of class at a reduced cost) for at least one course, up from 21% in 2020 and 12% in 2019.

The full report, with further details on usage trends, textbook delivery models, faculty response to the pandemic and more, is available for purchase on the OnCampus Research site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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