Digital learning resources – ensuring equality of access and equality of benefit

With the emergence of new digital learning platforms such as Bibliotech and Kortext and the new access models being introduced by the major publishers, there has been a focus and emphasis of late from universities on ensuring that their expenditure on learning resources results in equality of access for their students.

Equality of access can take a number of forms but the one we have been seeing is based on ensuring that when an institution is acquiring eBooks for a designated cohort – the students on a module for example – those eBook are also available to all students (and indeed the entire university community) through mechanisms such as unrestricted loans (a user can take out a title on loan as many times as required and there are no restrictions on how many users can take out a title on loan at any given time).

The details of how best to achieve equality of access and how what institutions want will influence and be influenced by publishers’ business models will evolve and emerge as the initial schemes are launched and levels of usage and benchmarks can be established.

Achieving equality of access is clearly an important and desirable building block. It is not, however, important in and of itself. It is only important as a component in ensuring both equality of opportunity and benefit – that all students are fully aware of and using to the optimal extent the resources that are available.

Having a strategy for equality of access without one for driving student engagement with and usage of their resources is always going to be sub-optimal.

In our experience, the key components of an engagement strategy for learning resources are:

Systems integration should be standard and the eBook or eLearning platform being used should as a minimum integrate with any other eLearning platform, the VLE, the LMS, any reading list software and all learning analytics dashboards and services. With regard to the VLE, the more granular and specific the integration the better. Resources should also be accessed via single sign-on.

Communications – letting students know that they access to resources should be straightforward but it remains the case that for many provisions the central component of communication is the university email system. Given the low student usage of university email this is an important but not sufficient approach. There needs to be a comprehensive programme of communication with multiple touch points from when a student is considering applying, through the application process, at registration, welcome week, FDOC, first assignment and beyond.

On campus buzz - nothing better than to back-up the communications with a strong presence on campus. Our Engagement Partners and student ambassadors work with universities and library teams throughout the year to ensure that students know about the resources that are available to them.

Training and support – essential to ensuring usage is facilitated is providing a comprehensive approach to training. We support all our Aspire Connect schemes with scheduled training and weekly drop-in sessions.

Feedback and response – finally it is essential to have both great analytics to see how resources are being used and mechanisms to get feedback from students, faculty and the library on how the provision could be improved. Most eBook platforms are now providing very high quality analytics that can identify patterns of engagement and usage that can be correlated to progression and attainment. These analytics are very powerful but do not in and of themselves provide a basis for improving provisions which is why having the mechanisms and people to capture and collate feedback from students makes an important difference.

Equality of access is an important first step but let’s not stop there, let’s ensure we push on to ensure that students are getting the full benefit of the resources that can support their study and their success.