No mad dash toward digital-only course materials

Most Iowa State faculty believe digital course materials generally cost less. But few think digital materials are of higher quality than print materials or that students prefer digital over print.

Few faculty currently use course materials that are primarily digital. However, five years hence, the majority of instructors expect their materials will be mostly digital.

When selecting course materials, Iowa State faculty pay the most attention to their own assessments and costs to students.

These are among findings from a course materials survey conducted for the Independent College Bookstore Association last fall and winter. The survey of approximately 3,000 faculty at 29 institutions includes responses from 136 ISU faculty.

University Bookstore manager Heather Dean noted that ISU survey results were similar to the combined results for all participating universities and colleges. Her take on the results?

"The printed book is not going away and digital is not a one-size-fits-all model," Dean said. "It all has to be catered to the developed curriculum of the class. At the bookstore, we continue to make course material affordability for students a top priority while faculty continue to focus on content quality.

"With the evolution of textbook rental, used book marketplace and digital offerings, we've been able to decrease overall costs of textbooks to students by $120 per semester since 2009. In fall 2015, we saved students more than $1.7 million on course materials."

Following are a few samples showing ISU responses to the survey.

Digital course views

(% who agree)

Digital course materials generally cost less for my students


Digital course materials are preferred by my students over print


Digital course materials are as easy for me to use as similar print materials


Digital course materials have a beneficial impact on student learning compared to print


Digital course materials are higher quality than similar print materials



Important factors in selecting textbooks and course materials

(% indicating factor is important)

My own assessment


Cost for my students


Comments from students or teaching assistants


Comments from colleagues


Available supplemental resources for students


Supplemental instructor materials


Available access to unlock digital supplements



How soon before your course materials will be primarily digital?


Currently (fall 2015)


Next year (fall 2016)


3 years (fall 2018)


5 years (fall 2020)


7 Years (fall 2022)




University Bookstore  staff were part of the survey task force that included staff from several other universities. University Bookstore is owned and operated by Iowa State.