How to Launch a Digital-First Content Model on Your Campus

How do you get started with digital-first content on your higher education campus? We've outlined 7 steps in this quick guide.

In a previous post, we looked at the learning and equity benefits of deploying a day-one, digital-first content model in higher education settings. Now it’s time to help you get the ball rolling at your institution. 

Fortunately, the widespread deployment of digital textbooks at the institutional level has never been easier. With Universal Learning, institutions can leverage technology to efficiently deliver digital content that is packaged with enrollment in a class. 

But this is only part of the equation – there are also human elements to consider. Change can be intimidating, which often drives people to cling to the familiar way of doing things, even when better alternatives exist. If you are a learning leader who is excited about going digital, you need to consider the mindset of critical stakeholders.

Digital textbooks: what is holding some faculty back?

While research demonstrates that digital content improves student performance, some faculty prefer the status quo because they have preconceived notions about the value of traditional textbooks. 

According to a 2022 survey conducted by Bay View Analytics, 33% of faculty agree or strongly agree that “students learn better from print than they do from digital.” 

However, the share of faculty who prefer print over digital has been shrinking in recent years. The Bay View Analytics survey also found that the proportion of faculty who agree or strongly agree that “students learn better from print than they do from digital” has dropped by 24% since 2018. 

The upshot is that more and more faculty are embracing digital, but higher learning leaders are still likely to encounter pockets of resistance. According to an earlier study, instructors often face “ambiguous tension and uncertainty” in adopting digital textbooks when they feel pressure from both students and the institution. 

While some faculty enthusiastically embrace digital textbooks, others need additional support and encouragement from higher learning leaders.

7 Ways to Build Faculty Engagement During a Digital-First Content Roll-Out

Instructor buy-in is critical to any successful digital textbook deployment. The more enthusiastic they are about specific features – such as in-book quizzes and discussion prompts – the more students will gain from their digital experience. 

According to one study, students perform better on open-ended test questions when they have access to instructor-created annotations within digital textbooks compared to those students who did not have this access. 

It’s worthwhile to consider how you can generate excitement for digital textbooks among faculty. Here are seven ways to build and maintain faculty buy-in as you make the switch to digital: 

1. Define success. 

A digital-first content model can generate several positive outcomes, whether it's more personalized learning, better learning equity, or increased student retention. However, you don’t need to strive for all these outcomes at once. What matters is that you can articulate a clear vision for the goals you want to achieve based on your institution’s strategic priorities. A clearly defined purpose will generate enthusiasm for your digital transformation initiative. 

2. Listen to concerns and offer support.

When people have a say during any transition, they feel more in control and are less likely to resist the change. Use listening tools to gauge how your instructors feel about switching to digital. A free survey maker can help you collect feedback and answer critical questions: Why is faculty or other leadership hesitant to make the switch? What kind of support do they need or want? Who do they want to turn to when they need help? 

3. Think big – but start small.

It might not be possible to get broad support from faculty at first, so consider starting with a pilot project. This can take as little as six weeks to implement and guarantees a more streamlined expansion the following semester. 

First-year courses are an excellent start because they can offer the a solid picture of student adoption. Also, consider other courses with higher student enrollments that typically have the highest textbook usage. 

4. Find champions.

Forward-thinking admin, faculty, staff, and students can act as champions throughout the transformation process. By spreading their enthusiasm to faculty members who would otherwise be warier about a new approach to learning content, these champions can help mitigate resistance to change. Give digital textbook access early to eager faculty who are already using innovative methods to spread the good word. 

Likewise, finding student champions is a great way to get students excited about using digital content. Consider inviting students to a lunch & learn session to learn about the benefits of digital and get them excited about using it. 

5. Prioritize ease of use.

Lack of training can be a significant barrier. Ensure staff know how to navigate new apps and are familiar with the key features that will benefit students the most. Keep in mind, however, that faculty could resent onerous amounts of ramp-up time. Select an intuitive technology platform that provides plenty of opportunities for self-paced learning with guidebooks.

6. Track progress.

Analytics can help you monitor reading engagement and track accessibility indicators to know students' benefits. Real-time engagement data that feeds directly into your learning analytics dashboards will help you see where adoption is taking hold and where you need to make some adjustments. Specifically, this enables you to determine which instructors might need more assistance.

7. Celebrate wins.

Real-time engagement data can also help you communicate successes to your key stakeholders and reinforce why you moved to digital. For example, higher student test scores among those using digital texts can illustrate the value dynamic content brings to teaching practices. Communicating successes back to instructors can keep the momentum going as you roll out your digital textbook implementation more broadly.

Thrive with Digital

Helping students get the resources they need to face academic challenges confidently starts with instructor engagement. By gaining instructor buy-in for digital textbooks, you can help students get more out of their digital learning experiences. As a higher learning leader, this enables you to move the needle on the outcomes that matter most, promoting learning equity or boosting student retention.

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