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For the first year on record, more faculty members used learning management systems than print course materials when teaching classes, according a new report released Tuesday from the National Association of College Stores.

The 2020 Faculty Watch report is based on a survey of 968 faculty members from 17 two- and four-year, public and private institutions in the United States and Canada. The survey asked faculty members about their courses, delivery methods and course materials for the 2019-20 academic year, which ended as the pandemic was beginning to cripple the U.S. last spring. Faculty members were surveyed in October and November.

More than half of surveyed faculty members said the pandemic affected their course structures in some way, and 65 percent of respondents said such changes negatively impacted educational quality. Only 15 percent of respondents said the pandemic-caused changes improved the quality of education.

The pandemic appeared to influence the types of course materials faculty members used during the 2019-20 academic year. Online options, including ebooks and learning management systems, were popular. During the 2019-20 academic year, 62 percent of faculty members used ebooks, compared with 53 percent the previous year.

A record 84 percent of faculty members said they used learning management systems such as Blackboard, Moodle or Sakai, compared with 78 percent the year prior.

At the same time, faculty members’ use of print materials took a sharp dip, the report shows. Only 77 percent of faculty members used some print materials during the 2019-20 academic year, compared to 86 percent the year prior and 93 percent during the 2015-16 academic year.

Brittany Conley, a research analyst at NACS OnCampus Research, attributes the change to the pandemic.

"We can’t say for a fact what’s related and what’s not related to the pandemic," Conley said. "This is very likely in part due to the increase in online courses and different options of digital materials."

About a quarter of faculty members said they still prefer traditional print materials, and one in five faculty members said they prefer a print textbook with a digital component, such as an access code. That said, access codes didn’t become much more popular last year: only 31 percent of faculty members said they used them, compared to 30 percent the previous year.

Nearly half of students preferred print course materials, according to another report from NACS, the 2020 Student Watch report.

These trends will likely continue next year, Conley said. Many faculty members choose which material formats to use at the beginning of the term, and the pandemic’s effects during the 2019-20 academic year are likely due to faculty members making changes to their materials and courses midsemester.

“Once we have the academic year starting after all of this has happened, and faculty get to make that choice, I think that we will probably see the same stuff but with even more [material format] changes,” Conley said.

The percentage of faculty respondents who have participated in an inclusive access program nearly doubled during the 2019-20 academic year, to 21 percent from 12 percent the year prior. Inclusive access programs are sometimes called instant access or day-one access programs. NACS defines them as “a distribution and billing system wherein all students enrolled in a course receive the required course materials by the first day of courses and are billed for them (usually) directly through the institution as they would be for tuition or other institutional expenses.”

Inclusive access programs have gained traction in recent years -- during the 2016-17 academic year, only 3 percent of faculty members said they’d participated in an inclusive access program.

Most faculty members, 73 percent, believe the trends in favor of digital content options will continue, according to the report. Another 73 percent of faculty members said they were introduced to new technology or courseware during the 2019-20 academic year that they plan to continue using.

Many faculty members also believe that pandemic-caused changes to course materials and delivery options will stick around. Seven in 10 say that hybrid or flex instruction models will continue long term, and more than half of faculty respondents said online-only options will persist.

Other Findings

On average, faculty members taught 3.8 courses during the 2019-20 academic year, up from 3.6 the year prior.

The number of required free and paid-for materials per course also increased to 1.6 during the 2019-20 academic year, up from 1.4 the year before. Humanities courses required 2.2 materials per course on average, the most of any common major, while health-related and business courses required only one material per course.

Most faculty members, 83 percent, selected their own materials. Part-time lecturers are less likely than others to have influence over the materials used in their courses -- only 69 percent said they selected their own materials, according to the report.

Two-thirds of faculty members said they knew the retail cost of the materials they selected. About 12 percent said they didn’t know how much the assigned materials cost.

Even while the number of required materials ticked upward, student spending on course materials declined slightly during the 2019-20 academic year, falling to an average of $413 from $415 the year prior. Student spending has trended downward for several years. During the 2015-16 academic year, students spent an average of $602 on course materials.

About 38 percent of faculty members used some form of open educational resources during the 2019-20 academic year, compared with 33 percent the year prior.

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