As pressure mounts to reduce student costs, it’s critical for administrators to understand how faculty regard course materials. Instructors are the top decision-makers when it comes to instructional design. Without faculty buy-in, administrative initiatives are likely to fail.
Many community colleges — and some state and private schools — are looking for ways to reduce cost and increase transparency with regard to course materials. Some are considering a switch to an online bookstore, which makes textbook prices and low-cost options clear to users. Some are shifting to an inclusive access model, which allows schools to order content at a discount from suppliers. With inclusive access, the cost of textbooks is included in the price of tuition.
Other schools are introducing courses based on OER. Achieving the Dream, the non-profit behind a $9.8 million OER initiative at 38 community colleges, says course materials cost students $1,300 a year. Lowering costs has a significant impact on the overall price of education.
Whatever option the administration prefers — one or a combination of all three — a degree of faculty buy-in is required. Data from Nielson’s Faculty Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education, a 2016 survey of 1,088 faculty members at two and four-year colleges, suggests that teachers would be most likely to resist a change to OER — not because they don’t want to see student costs lowered, but because the change would require them to find new content.
The study shows instructors believe required course materials play a key role in student success. A full 85% either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “Students who obtain the required course materials typically achieve higher grades in class.” In 7 of 10 courses, a single textbook — not an OER — was required or recommended. Thus, the data suggest faculty believe the required textbook is critical to student success.
The survey also shows faculty members are most likely to consider changing course materials when they are unhappy with the content. Cost is a concern, but content rules.
- 41% of those surveyed said “perceived student success” motivated a new course materials initiative.
- 27% said cost motivated a new course materials initiative.
For this reason, faculty are likely to remain tied to course materials — the single required or recommended textbook — as long as they believe the content helps students succeed in class. When faculty decide to change course materials, they take cost into consideration. Yet content remains a critical factor in their selection.
- More than 50% said low cost to students is among the top three criteria for choosing new books.
- 40% said experience with a previous edition is a top priority.
- More than 40% said the pedagogy within the textbook matters most.
Meanwhile, a full 66% ranked “recommendation from colleague” among the top five influencing factors when choosing new instructional programs or products. None said administrative input had an effect on their decision.
The results of the study indicate faculty might warm more easily to an online bookstore transition than an OER initiative. Most of those surveyed said they regard technology as an important teaching tool and — perhaps more importantly — most said they regard themselves as technology-proficient. On a scale of 1 to 10, the average agreement score for the statement “Compared to other faculty, I am proficient in technology” was a 7.2. The average agreement score for the statement “I believe there is real value in integrating technology into the classroom” was also 7.2.
Because faculty overwhelmingly said that students’ grades improve when they obtain the required course materials, an inclusive access model could also have great appeal. As long as faculty have assurance they are the ones choosing course content, they will be relieved to know that more students will arrive in class with the required material on day one. The fact that inclusive access can also save students money will only enhance their positive perception of the change.