From Paper to Paperless

HIGHER EDTECH | By Julie Smith

A real-life guide to making digital content a reality.

Students have high expectations for campus technology.  An astonishing 93 percent of today’s high school students say that an institution’s technology offerings are important criteria as they select their college, according to the CDW-G 21st-Century Campus Report.

To keep up with the technology demands of today’s and tomorrow’s college students, and to stay competitive in the higher education marketplace, administrators and CIOs need to look beyond standard technology offerings to the next wave of technology, including digital content solutions.

Digital content, which can be defined as online textbooks, material available online for download including PDF documents, notes and other curricular materials in electronic form, is changing the way the 21st-century student learns.  The technology increases student engagement and performance in the classroom, and can save students hundreds of dollars, sometimes even 20 percent of their tuition, on textbook costs.

CDW-G’s report found that nearly all faculty and students surveyed see benefits to digital content as a textbook alternative.  The most tangible benefit, as identified by 81 percent of students, is cost savings.  In addition, students report instant access to content and ease of note taking as other benefits to the solution.

Despite significant benefits, digital content is just now catching on.  One forward thinking institution in central Florida, however, plans to implement digital content campus-wide, delivering electronic textbooks and reducing costs for 37,000 students.

Daytona State College:  Ahead of the e-Curve

Daytona State College, a former community college that expanded to a four-year degree granting institution, began planning its digital content initiative in May 2009.  After doing extensive research on how to lower the cost of textbooks, including evaluating everything from open book programs to used textbook options, the college determined that digital content was the best solution to reduce costs for its students.

“Our goal for the initiative is to reduce textbook costs for our students by as much as 80 percent.  We found that the number one reason students drop out of Daytona State College, outside of uncontrollable circumstances, is due to costs incurred from textbooks,” said Randy Spiwak, executive vice president and chief financial officer, Daytona State College.  “With this initiative, we will be able to increase access to higher education for many students, as digital content will allow students to read, study and learn in a cost-efficient way.”

The college began piloting digital content in the spring semester of 2010, and continues to enhance the program with additional pilots in the fall and spring semesters of this year.  The pilot programs show that students and faculty have seen considerable benefits aside from cost savings, including improved grades and increased involvement in their classes.

Daytona State College recommends offering several options to access content, but strongly encourages offering devices that have advanced capabilities.

“The devices we evaluated are not simply e-readers that display text only.  We want to offer devices that allow students to download their books, access the Internet, view multimedia tools, annotate on the screen and highlight relevant text,” Randy noted.  “Through our pilot programs, we found that multi-functional devices provide a higher level of student engagement and provide students with the tools needed to learn on a deeper level.”

The college’s non-traditional student population, many of whom work and commute to campus, need mobile computing to access their course materials.  Daytona State College found that digital content caters to their demographic, enabling students to access content on and off campus.

The college plans to launch the initiative campus-wide in the summer and fall of 2011.

Jumping on the Bandwagon:  A Roadmap to Digital Content

Many institutions are interested in making the move to digital content, but are unsure of how to get started.  Here are several tips administrators should consider before going digital.

Research, thoroughly:  Institutions should do extensive research and look to other campuses that have successfully implemented digital content programs before making a plan.  They should weigh several options and solutions, and then develop a plan

Free money is available:  Colleges should take advantage of grant funding, where available.  Daytona State College secured funds through a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education) grant from the Department of Education

IT infrastructure is key:  Institutions should evaluate their IT infrastructure while in the planning stages to determine if their wireless network will support the proliferation of devices.  Without a robust network and core IT infrastructure in place, the solution may not work as well as planned

Pilot, pilot, pilot:  Before launching a digital content solution, colleges should host pilot programs to evaluate challenges and identify solutions.  Pilot programs help institutions identify problems before the hard launch

Some students still want paper:  Institutions need to consider the needs of all students, including those that still want to read hard copies of their books.  Colleges can use print kiosks on campus, to enable students to print all, or some, of their readings.  Keep in mind that printing can cost less than a penny per page, that’s $3 for a 300 page book

Work with vendor partners:  Administrators and IT staff can work with their vendor partners to develop end-to-end solutions, from initial research to final implementation.  Many partners become an extension of the IT staff, providing support even after implementation

The move from physical to digital can seem daunting, but with the right plan in place, students, faculty and staff can discover real benefits.  Digital content offers a solution that saves money and provides a new, more meaningful way for the 21st-century student to learn.


Julie Smith is vice president of higher education for CDW-G, where she leads a team providing best-in-class information technology products to address higher education institution issues with processes and reporting, state mandates, institutional funding, staff resources and technology standardization.


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