Most American professors generally avoid digital materials, according to a new study. A minority are interested, but the majority prefer traditional (print) materials, with powerful implications for the intersection of technology and higher education. Put another way, the classroom use of digital materials is a very divided space, and progress towards the digital is slow.
Casey Green and his Campus Computing Project (about which see below) conducted the research for the Independent College Bookstore Association (ICBA), working with nearly 3000 faculty at 29 campuses (15 universities, 9 BA/MA-granting institutions, 5 community colleges).
Let’s break down some details.
The two dominating factors that drive faculty course material decisions are quality and cost. When professors select analog instead of digital content, it’s largely because of perceived quality and impact on learning: “Faculty are not convinced that digital offers higher quality, provides real added-value content, or improves learning outcomes”. When asked “Why might you decide to select OER materials for your classes?”, the leading answer was finding stuff with the right quality.
Whether or not materials exist in digital form isn’t an issue for a clear majority of instructors.
There is a bedrock layer of faculty with strong resistance to digital materials. For example,
Asked when they thought the majority of their course materials would be primarily digital, fully a fourth of the surveyed faculty indicated “never”…
Open education materials (OER) fare very badly with America’s professors, as a clear majority either have no idea what those materials are, or don’t know enough to make a decision. “Three-fourths (75%) have had no direct “contact” with OER content”. This, despite more than a decade of development and agitation:
Actual OER usage remains tiny, well within the classic early adopter range. “[One] tenth (11 percent) were using OER materials and 4 percent were currently using OER in their classes and also making their own course materials available as OER.”
Interesting detail: when asked about what kinds of OER they’d like to see, faculty tended to prefer video (62%) and “supplemental course materials” (53%) over textbooks (47%).
On the pro-digital side, a substantial minority of faculty see a set of virtues in digital materials, including cost, value, and boosts to student learning:
Intriguingly, a majority express interested in one particular form of digital learning content:
just over two-thirds (69 percent) of the survey participants agreed/strongly agreed that they have used or would like to use “curricular materials that make use of adaptive learning technologies.”
There’s also some interest in “analytics and reports on class performance” (44%).
A very distressing consensus emerged from survey data, a warning note about open materials and access to education. “Over a fourth (27%) of survey participants report their students do not have easy access to tech resources that would allow them to make full use of digital content.” Think about that. As Green reflects,
“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, many of the students who might benefit most from lower-cost digital and OER course materials are not able to do so.”
“The students who might experience the greatest financial benefits from going digital cannot do so”. Will OER become the province of the wealthy?
On a related note, consider the strong differences between institutional type:
There is much more in the study, like a vast gap between faculty and CIO attitudes, and a surprising datapoint about age. Read the whole thing.
Casey Green will be my guest this week on our new Future Trends Forum. We’ll discuss this study, and the latest Campus Computing Survey data, with an eye to what they tell us about the future. More coming in this space.