Even before the pandemic hit, schools were embracing digital materials at increasing rates, using digital resources to complement print textbooks and support curriculum. Fast forward to today where we are seeing students once again walking the halls of college campuses, and digital course materials remain a key part of the education experience, supporting in-person, remote and hybrid learning programs.
Despite the momentum, those schools that have dipped their toes in the digital waters are realizing it’s not quite as simple as getting content online. There are more digital options to choose from, more licensing models to decipher, and more systems to navigate. Plus there are numerous back-end processes and financial controls that must be in place to protect a school’s bottom line.
The biggest challenges when implementing digital course materials center around multi-platform usage, system integrations, and the lack of transparency. For starters, students and faculty are asked to juggle numerous platforms and systems, which can make the process of accessing and using digital course materials confusing. Additionally, for digital materials to work seamlessly, a school’s systems need to talk to each other. Implementing and maintaining all of the necessary integrations for this to happen often leaves the school’s IT team shouldering the burden. Finally, without the necessary controls and verification processes in place, schools and students often end up overpaying for digital materials, especially when using the same content across different courses and terms.
There are a variety of fulfillment models that are designed to get digital course materials into students’ hands easily, immediately and effectively. In some instances, students purchase materials from the school’s online bookstore, and in other cases, students automatically receive their materials if they are enrolled in a course. However, providing access to digital materials is only one piece of the puzzle. Schools must be mindful of all of the back-end operations that keep course materials programs running. Here is what you need to know.
1. Make Sure Faculty Know How to Effectively Choose and Use Digital Materials
Just like print textbooks, the number of digital add-ons available from publishers and third-party content creators can be overwhelming. From eBooks and Publisher Direct Content, to Access Codes, Codeless Access and Courseware, faculty need to be able to easily find and evaluate materials. Adoption tools, technologies and peers can provide recommendations so faculty can easily analyze, compare and rank alternative options and costs. It’s also important that faculty are prepared to effectively use digital materials and devices. Up front training and ongoing professional technology support help faculty use materials and in a way that fits their preferences, styles, strengths and weaknesses. Webinars, online user guides, videos and peer groups can help put the content into context and show faculty all the ways it can be used within their courses. Lastly, helping faculty access and understand the analytics empowers them to better gauge student engagement, be proactive in their outreach, and gain unique insights into how and how often the digital content is used.
2. Make Sure Your Systems are Integrated to Allow for Single Sign-On
Having the right integrations in place simplifies faculty and student access to digital content, plus it makes it easier for schools to manage digital content operations. That said, implementing and maintaining integrations can add stress to your IT team and infrastructure. Digital content platforms and systems need to integrate with other on-campus enterprise solutions, including a school’s SIS, LMS and financial systems. Single Sign-On from the student portal or LMS to the digital content simplifies access and provides a direct link to digital course materials. Plus these integrations facilitate insights into digital course materials transactions and usage so the school can verify costs and avoid potential financial losses.
3. Make Sure Students Have the Devices they Need to Access Materials
It’s imperative that students have the necessary equipment and technology to access their digital course materials. Many schools offer devices as part of their course materials programs to ensure student access; however, these device programs have their own layers of complications for schools. From researching technical requirements and vendor customer service, to managing new and used inventory, distribution, serial numbers, activation codes and WiFi hot spots, there is a lot to keep track of. Things get further complicated when it comes to managing the returns, repairs and re-assignment of the devices. Schools need the processes in place to provide instructions to students and faculty, oversee and manage inventory quantity and quality, assess device condition for future use, and settle student accounts.
4. Make Sure Students Can Easily Opt-Out of Automatically Assigned Digital Materials
Federal regulations mandate that in most instances students have the option to opt-out of content that is automatically provided to them and included in their tuition and fees, as is the case in Inclusive Access or Equitable Access programs. Unfortunately, the process isn’t always straightforward for students or schools. Schools need to make sure that their opt-out functionality not only allows students to decline course materials, but also verifies the opt-out so that the student is credited financially. Be mindful that opting out of publisher direct content can get tricky, as access tends to still be available via a school’s LMS even if after a student has opted-out.
5. Make Sure You Have Full Transparency Into Licenses, Usage and Costs so Students Don’t Overpay
Overpaying for digital content happens far too often. Without the appropriate financial and operational controls in place to verify licenses, usage and fees, it becomes difficult to determine what is actually owed. Schools need to have the processes in place to address license redemption, cancellation and reconciliation, all hinging upon student status, which can be a moving target. Parameters must be established for student access, including non-expiring, semester-based and census-based durations. This becomes increasingly difficult to track when students use the same content across different courses and terms, which is one of the lead causes of overpayment. Keep in mind that many licensing models are available, where some give schools complete control over what they pay, some lock schools into minimums, and others feature workstation or FTE student enrollment licensing where schools often pay for licenses that are never used. Navigating the complexities of digital content licenses and verification is critical in protecting a school’s bottom line.
As schools continue to evolve their on-campus, remote and hybrid learning programs, they are making bigger investments in technology, as well as digital materials and devices to supplement print textbooks and other materials. For students, incorporating digital materials alongside print provides a cohesive learning experience. It means improved availability and accessibility of resources, and it gives students a choice in how they interact with course materials. For faculty, digital materials bring additional opportunities to customize content and align resources, plus the analytics give them unique insights into student engagement.
Providing uninterrupted access to all print and digital materials across all learning models is no small task. Yet when schools have the right technologies, processes and safeguards in place, access is simpler, platforms and systems work better together, and transactions are more accurate.
About the Author
As Vice President of Sales at Ambassador Education Solutions, Laura Cavanaugh has extensive experience in the EdTech and course materials industry. She kick-started her online bookstore tenure during the industry’s infancy and today specializes in strategy and implementation of all bookstore models, including online and hybrid bookstores, as well as Inclusive Access and Equitable Access automatic fulfillment models.