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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Marketing to the faculty...

The market to faculty mantra has come up in a few places lately. The facilitator at Innovate pushed this point on the second day. In a posting to this blog late last week, a reader responded with the same point. I and others have also been questioning how well stores *really know* their faculty and the state of their faculty relations.

We know faculty, on the whole, are a barrier to successful adoption of digital course materials, and that they currently prefer not to select the e-book. We also know that the largest influencer of what course materials a student accesses or acquires in a course are faculty comments and recommendations.

I heard an interesting anecdote yesterday about how one company that was working with e-book pilots on campuses had a class where students could get the course materials for free. The faculty member supported the initiative, but made a joke in the class that he was more of a luddite, slower to adopt technology, but that the students should go ahead and try the digital as they were far ahead of them. Even at FREE, students chose not to take the digital in this case, presumably because of the faculty comments.

In focus groups that others conducted we heard that students will typically buy not only what the faculty member recommends, but what the faculty member uses. The students reported that even if they preferred the digital option, they were concerned that if they did not use content in the same format as the faculty member that they might not be as successful in the class.

With the cost of textbooks continually on the rise, how long will such perceptions hold out? What will it take to improve faculty relations for college stores? What will it take for more faculty to adopt digital versions of their course materials? What will it take for students to decide that the savings currently offered by most digital options are worth the risk of a lower grade?

I must note, in response to this last question, that this may be more perception than reality. Researchers with OhioLINK reported no statistical difference between students who used digital versus print in their classroom experiments. I did read a study somewhere suggesting that students did take longer to study in the e-book format, and that was attributed to eye fatigue issues. I do not recall how significant the effect was, however.

Getting back to the main point -- faculty will have an effect on the adoption of digital course materials. Stores need to interact with faculty to understand their needs and interests, and how they use content to enhance the learning and educational experience. That may provide new insights into how we can meet student and faculty needs in ways we currently may or may not be doing.


Blake said...

To me, the obvious answer to the question of "what will it take to get faculty members to use and recommend e-readers to their students?" comes down to carrots rather than sticks. If Amazon is the e-book provider in question, they already have the answer to this question in their grasp. Provide faculty an incentive within the actual device to explore it further and become more familiar with it.

M said...

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment. Your argument seems to assume or suggest that Amazon is the only device for consideration. There are many other device possibilities out there. The current device also is designed more for trade book reading rather than textbook or course material work, which could provide a negative experience for faculty hoping to use the device in that context. There are a lot of faculty out there as well. Not all faculty can be incentivized with an actual device. So how should faculty be chosen and by whom? How would you measure the effectiveness of your incentive program? Who would pay for it? What content would you have them try? Your idea is interesting, but how do we make an effective and implementable solution out of it? Remember, over 95% of faculty had access to course management systems for many years but it is only within the last couple years that adoption has climbed over the 25-50% ranges for most institutions. Why would adoption of e-books by faculty be any different?

Blake said...

Well, I love the devil’s advocate position so let me try to respond to your posting. First, I don’t want to share all of my ideas here because I am trying to have these same conversations with some folks in the textbook publishing industry. I realize that much of my argument seems to revolve around the Amazon kindle but I recognize that there are other e-reader devices out there (e.g. Sony reader) and that there are no doubt even more of them on the way. I have a Kindle reader (which I love by the way) so I certainly realize its limitations with regard to trying to read textbooks on it (e.g. no page numbers; lack of color; small screen size, etc.) but my prior posting operates on the assumption that the techcrunch posting was accurate, namely that a larger more textbook friendly Kindle reader is in development. Indeed, the current reader might create a negative experience for faculty with the exception of academic areas that read mostly literature (e.g. English) that is not too graphics heavy. To your point about the incentives, the question is “who stands to gain the most from the adoption of e-readers?” Is it the device manufacturer, the textbook publishers, college bookstores (assuming they play it right), all the above? While all the above probably benefit, I maintain that the publishers have the most to gain if marketed correctly. As we all know, desk copies of textbooks find their way into the secondary book market to the tune of millions of dollars per year. Without getting into the ethics of faculty selling textbooks to book buyers, the fact is that it happens and it costs publishers money! If certain segments of faculty (I’m being purposefully vague here) were targeted with e-readers, the entire exam review process could be re-structured in such a way that would virtually halt the flow of desk copies into the secondary book market. Your point is well taken about current efforts with course management systems not being entirely successful for desk/exam copy review purposes. I believe that the reason the new e-readers are different lies in the new technology itself. Everyone that I TALK to about the Kindle talks about how e-readers are a waste of money, will never take-off, etc. Everyone who SEES the kindle, however, universally agrees that the e-ink technology is striking and that “you can’t tell you are reading on an electronic device”, etc. There are also particular features of the Kindle (again, being vague here) that would likely be attractive to faculty members if they were marketed well. I’m sorry that I have been a little bit vague here but I am really hoping to have more focused dialogue about this topic with one of the publishers, therefore I will withhold more specifics for that opportunity. In short, the answer to “why now?” is that the new technology on the Kindle (and other e-readers like it) has changed the game and has made it possible for publishers to both trim costs by offering e-readers to faculty as an incentive and to increase revenue by the ensuing student adoptions. As to your question about measuring success, in addition to the obligatory measures of satisfaction, adoption rates by students, etc., the bottom line really is the bottom line.