By Alison Spencer, UCB Student Intern, UCOP. In 1993, Jason Lorgan’s boss told him digital textbooks were three years away. “Of course, years passed before we had them,” said Lorgan, now the director of stores for the University of California, Davis. Even when digital textbooks finally became more widespread, they often did not take advantage of their full potential to improve on the traditional textbook experience. In fall 2014, Lorgan and others at UC Davis started an ambitious project, called Inclusive Access, to step beyond digital textbooks into immersive digital content.
Inclusive Access is a content delivery model which provides students with access to interactive learning software, including the instructor’s chosen text. Access starts on the first day of class, guaranteeing no loss of instructional time. Students can choose to stay in, or opt-out if they decide they prefer to purchase print material. They also benefit from the software’s adaptive technology. For example, features of the interactive platforms provided through Inclusive Access include practice problems that gauge students’ knowledge and let them know if they can skip ahead or if they should spend more time reviewing.
Another advantage is that Inclusive Access is based on a course fee model and billed through student accounts, making it easy for students to use financial aid to pay for it. Further, the prices are around 70% lower than those for traditional textbooks. All this adds up. “Students have saved around $4 million in total,” said Lorgan. The price cut stems from publishers, and the school bookstore, trading margin for volume. Publishers are willing to drop prices significantly because they’re getting a higher percentage of people to use their product.
In creating this system, the UC Davis team had to start from scratch. “In the beginning we didn’t have a program and had to develop one on our own,” said Kelly Holt, assistant director for Inclusive Access. “We started off using Microsoft Office tools, and later created a web-based application as the program grew.”
Holt also worked to get faculty on board with using Inclusive Access for their courses. First, Holt and his colleagues assured professors they wouldn’t be responsible for tech support. Instead, student employees help other students with technology issues, usually through online chat. Second, they worked to counter professors’ sense that students would rather have print. “We have collected post-term surveys that show that 83% of students do prefer print. But over 80% of students say that the online interactive components provide more educational value than books,” said Holt. “When you ask students about digital, they’re thinking of a PDF. But they think of Inclusive Access as a different experience.” Other evidence supports this point. When given the option to add a print textbook for a small fee, less than one percent of students did, demonstrating a high acceptance of online content.
An Example for Others
Currently, around 50 classes at a time use Inclusive Access, and the program is expanding rapidly. “Students want to know how they can get on it, which inspires publishers to create more interactive platforms,” said Holt. It’s a win for faculty, students, stores, and publishers.
Many institutions have taken notice of the program’s success. More than sixty universities have contacted UC Davis about the program, and UC Davis employees regularly travel to conferences to share their story with other administrators. “This is a really cool example of how we all worked together because we saw the potential benefits to students,” said Lorgan. “When all these groups agree on something, you know it’s good.”