We’re standing at a crossroads in education.
Student debt is now higher than ever — over $1 trillion on the national level — and 70% of students report not buying textbooks due to cost. With the cost of education working against students, it’s clear we need a way to increase student access to educational content and reduce the barriers holding so many back.
Fortunately, many educators and institutions are working to ease students’ financial burdens and pushing classrooms to become more cost efficient and cost effective. York College, for example, has made the push towards digital and open to address the needs of its students.
I recently spoke with Dr. Tracey Wyatt, York’s Dean of Assessment and Assistant to the President for Institutional Effectiveness, on the college’s push to a digital and open campus and what that means for educators. York is a small liberal arts college in Nebraska serving about 500 students who mostly come from rural, middle-class incomes. To address the cost burdens many students faced when it came to educational content — like textbooks and course materials — the college turned to digital, open alternatives.
York is in the process of going completely digital. In 2012, the college replaced its campus bookstore with Akademos, an online store for textbooks and course materials. And this year, York is working to digitize its library.
Going digital is just one piece of the puzzle in easing financial burdens on students. The other component that Dr. Wyatt sees as crucial towards addressing the needs of his students is making a push toward open resources. York’s instructors are using and customizing open resources to their curriculums to give students low-cost or free educational content.
Make the open resources central to your class
Students won’t always use the assigned book or reading even if it is available for free or at little cost. To ensure they read what you assign, make the resources a central part of your instruction. Tying a quiz back to each chapter read or prompting a class discussion around the material will ensure your students come prepared for class.
Ensure your content solution meets class needs
Be aware of your students’ needs and preferences.York saw that many of its students were already using digital textbooks before the school offered them as an option. Keep in mind, that although you may aspire to be a fully digital campus, there may be some students who still require print access. Finding a solution that can address both sides of this spectrum is key.
Support open resources with external sources
Open resources are typically appropriate for introductory-level courses, where the knowledge does not change dramatically year-to-year. Although open resources are great at providing basic overviews of many disciplines, you will sometimes need to bring in specialized resources or opinions from other experts.
The switch to more cost efficient and cost effective resources for students requires discipline and planning. The key to using open resources and increasing student access to educational material is to remove all possible barriers to entry.
Ariel Diaz is the founder and CEO of Boundless, an education company providing flexible, online teaching resources.