Is it time to say goodbye to bound textbooks?

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Brief Abstract

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed higher education. One such change has been the accelerated acceptance of (and even preference for) digital course materials. This presentation uses large-scale national survey data to examine this trend and speculate on what the next few years will show.


Dr. Jeff Seaman is Director of Bay Vie Analytics. He has worked in education information technology for over 20 years, and holds degrees in Demography/Statistics, Sociology, Electrical Engineering, and Housing, all from Cornell University. He has taught at several colleges and universities, including Cornell University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Babson College. Dr. Seaman created and ran the Computing Resource Center and served as Associate Vice Provost for Computing for the University of Pennsylvania and as Chief Information Officer for Lesley University. His industry experience includes serving as Chief Technology Officer at and as the Vice President of Engineering for Vista Associates. Dr. Seaman has been conducting research in the impact of technology on higher education and K-12 for over a decade, beginning with comprehensive national studies of technology use in U.S. Higher Education. Dr. Seaman has served on academic technology advisory boards for a number of information technology companies including Apple Computer, IBM, and Microsoft.

Extended Abstract

The pandemic has impacted the criteria that faculty use in selecting their course materials. After an initial period when the rush to convert courses for remote instruction forced all other activities to the side, faculty are once again taking the time to research and select the most appropriate materials for their classes. This process remains much the same as before the pandemic, with faculty evaluation of textbook content at the core. There has been one fundamental change, however: Faculty, now more than ever, prefer materials in digital formats.

During the pandemic, the large-scale adoption of digital materials provided faculty and students with a real-time laboratory. Their experience was compelling — they now overwhelmingly prefer increased use of digital course materials.

This presentation draws information from multiple Bay View Analytics surveys to trace the growing acceptance (and preference) for digital course materials. Results include those from the Digital Learning Pulse Survey (DLPS) project, which examined changes in teaching and learning in six surveys from Spring 2020 to Spring 2022, and the ongoing series of higher education Open Education Resources reports.

Growing acceptance of digital course materials is not new. Prior Bay View Analytics research demonstrated increasing faculty adoption, with faculty opinion becoming more optimistic about digital materials than traditional print products. What is new is the pervasive nature and magnitude of the recent change.

Results from the Spring 2022 DLPS survey showed that 46% of faculty were now more optimistic about using digital course materials than before the pandemic, compared to only 8% who were more pessimistic. Results for academic administrators mirrored those of the faulty, with 51% more optimistic and only 7% more pessimistic.

Even more compelling is faculty data on their intentions for using digital materials, and student preferences for the same. For example, in the Fall of 2021 faculty were asked about their future use of digital materials. More than two-thirds (70%) of faculty agreed or strongly agreed that their preference was for increased use, with only 10% disagreeing. The results for students were similar, with 63% reporting that they preferred to have more digital materials included in their courses. This result is not surprising: 48% of students reported being more optimistic about digital than before the pandemic.

The result is clear; both students and faculty agree: digital materials are at the core of the future of education.