Digital first

We should think digital when producing customisable teaching material for today’s courses, says Andrew Ashwin

Addressing higher education institutions and faculty concerns around student outcomes, feedback and engagement, has meant publishing products have evolved swiftly to supply learning resources in an array of formats – from traditional print to fully customisable and adaptive online platforms. Dr Andrew Ashwin, Head of Higher & Vocational Education Publishing for the EMEA region at global education company Cengage Learning, shares his thoughts on the many benefits this brings to students and lecturers alike.

With higher education institutions (HEIs) looking at embedding digital content into their courses to address the themes of student engagement and outcomes, the evolution of learning content and solutions provided by education publishers has been focused on augmenting print with interactive, customisable, online tools and content.

The possibilities offered by these solutions, including improved learning outcomes and time saving, make digital products extremely appealing to university lecturers and decision makers in higher education as they seek to manage the pressures of combining the demands of research, high quality teaching and funding constraints.

But it’s not as simple as just buying some digital content. It is important that the solutions are fully compatible with an institution’s existing virtual learning environments. The benefits of learning tool interoperability (LTI) allow the lecturer and student to link to content and resources easily without providing a further system layer. 

The key consideration has to be the extent to which the solution is customisable. Ideally, it should be fully customisable, rather than prescribed by a publisher. Although many HEIs may have similar curricula, the way that they teach, the way content is arranged, their assessment programmes and the learning needs of their students may well be different.

Although many HEIs may have similar curricula, the way that they teach, the way content is arranged, their assessment programmes and the learning needs of their students may well be different

Digital solutions which provide lecturers with a wide range of customisable options with regard to content, learning path, assessment, the facility to upload their own content and resources, as well as using publisher content are extremely important. These functions allow the lecturer to provide personalised, locally relevant content and resources to students in a way that a print offering alone cannot do.

Digital solutions reflect more closely the way in which many students access content in their everyday lives.  For example, e-books offer a wide range of tools such as a facility allowing lecturers to insert notes in the text for students, the option for students to highlight, take notes, retrieve their notes and provide a fully functioning search facility. Some e-books offer text-to-speech functionality which can be very helpful in catering for different learning needs. 

Another invaluable resource typically found within good digital solutions is the integration of video – including YouTube,  videos of university lectures, narrated approaches to solving problems and bespoke video content provided by the institution. 

Then, crucially, come integrated assessment materials which offer lecturers the ability to provide students with rigorous tests that are automatically graded – and provide a mix of contextual and narrated feedback. The National Student Survey highlights ‘quality of feedback’ as a major source of complaint from students. Any resource that helps lecturers with limited time and increasing student numbers and provides higher quality feedback, will help lecturers’ time management and improve student learning outcomes.