In this post we look at the what and the how of providing learning resources as part of student fees.
In terms of direct provision to students, the focus of most of the schemes in place at the moment is on providing core textbooks for modules. This approach makes sense as some recent research conducted globally by ProQuest with faculty and students pointed to the critical role books play alongside journals:
University libraries have access to extensive journal collections so providing students with the core books that are integrated into module delivery alongside library services for wider reading equips students is a compelling combination.
If textbooks are the focus, is there a difference in format that is a significant factor? From a university perspective, providing digital textbooks makes sense as there is a wealth of analytical data about engagement and usage that can be used assess the effectiveness of the provision. Textbook usage data in and of itself is of some value – why is usage of certain titles or on certain modules lower, when in the day and in the semester is usage at its highest, what content types are being used most etc. It becomes more valuable when correlated to progression, attainment and entry tariffs. One a number of eBook provisions we manage, we see correlations that you would expect such as students who get higher grades use their resources more and students who do not use their resources are at an increased risk of not progressing. Integrated into learner analytics and personal tutor dashboards then this data can help shape positives interventions. Providing digital textbooks is also logistically easier than print and the new access models mean that not only do designated users get a personal copy of a title but that title is also available to all students and indeed the entire university community on an unrestricted loan basis.
The evidence of whether students prefer print to digital remains mixed. There are lots of surveys that ask specifically about the format of the book and these suggest print is still preferred but surveys that focus more how students study and their perceptions of what helps them with research then digital scores more highly. Again, this makes intuitive sense as digital offers for more functionality in terms supporting research and assignment preparation.
Of course, it is not only textbooks that are provided as some of the most successful schemes in the UK at the moment also provide a range of apps, OERs, quizzing and polling software and specialist equipment. Whilst Open Textbooks still only represent a small % of the market (in the US around 6% of undergraduate courses use Open Textbooks) with the expanding programmes from organisations such as OpenStax and Knowledge Unlatched this should increase rapidly over the coming few years. Look for the eBook platform providers such as Vital Source, Kortext and Bibliotech and engagement parts such as JS Group to be investing in better discovery tools for OERs and to be pushing for their inclusion in future provisions to students.
As to how these resources should be made available, our experience is that there is a fairly even split between institutions who make specific funding available to students so they can purchase titles of their choice (the Aspire Engage model) and institutions who make specific titles available to their students (the Aspire Connect model). We have also found that institutions mix and match the two approaches and move from one model to the other as circumstances change. The good news is that both work.