Why American higher education faculty tend to resist digital materials: new study

GOING DIGITAL Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER Course Materials
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:

faculty on OER

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:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 9.32.44 AM

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:

institutions and their attitudes towards digital materials

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.

Campus Computing Project logoCasey 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.

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11 Responses to Why American higher education faculty tend to resist digital materials: new study

  1. sarobison says:

    Some more discussion on the survey here: https://t.co/SHKErmLO67

  2. This problem of educational digital divide starts in in k12, I think and worsens moving into higher ed. Just today, I got an e-mail from my kid’s elementary school asking parents to donate copy paper. The school has run out and they couldn’t copy the math homework. I could download and print out a .pdf from my home computer, but that doesn’t work for the students (many) whose family only accesses the school’s not-mobile-optimized website from a cell phone. Perhaps OER already IS the province of the wealthy.

  3. I have moved all of my outside assignment materials to online formats. This is in part because of my positive experience with the CIC Online Humanities Consortium. But I also make PDFs of print articles (why have them go to the reserve desk in the library?) and I make heavy use of the Khan Academy Art History videos, expertly done by Drs. Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker. I have found more and more content that I put online as well. But I do agree that some students do not have access. One of my colleagues tried to use e-books with this class this semester and many students said they had trouble or “couldn’t” access the books. Now, that could be hiding behind tech to not do the reading, but there could be legitimate barriers to knowing how to get the books. Thanks for the post.

  4. Pingback: The next Future Trends Forum features Casey Green and the Campus Computing Project | Bryan Alexander

  5. Pingback: Why American higher education faculty tend to resist digital materials: new study | ET News

  6. Pingback: Technology and Casey Green on campus: Future Trends Forum #3, notes and full recording | Bryan Alexander

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