Digital Course Materials: The How and Why of Going Online


Choosing the right textbook to assign to your students can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. But by opting for digital course materials, you can break free of the traditional options for a platform that is modern, affordable, and customized to your specific needs.


The textbook publishing industry is dominated by a handful of key players. You’ve likely experienced the consequences of this lack of competition: limited options and of course, high prices.


And because traditional publishers have a hold on the industry, there’s little incentive for innovation. Digital books have risen in popularity in recent years, but they’re typically less feature-rich learning platforms and more just a computerized version of the printed material.


At Skyepack, we believe in making high-quality educational content accessible for all students. We’ve seen firsthand how digital course materials improve the required reading experience for students and professors in college classrooms across the country.


Ahead, we’ll explore the basics and benefits of digital course materials, covering key questions including:

  • What are digital course materials?

  • Why do students prefer digital course materials?

  • Why are digital course materials an opportunity for professors?

  • How do you create useful and engaging learning materials?

We’ll also dispel any of the half-truths you may have heard about digital course materials. While it’s true that some providers offer low-quality or labor-intensive options, we’ll focus on custom content that is both effective for students and easy for you as an educator. Let’s jump in!


What are digital course materials?


Digital course materials are any kind of instructional material that can be accessed through a computer or mobile device. Students and professors alike appreciate the convenience and affordability of digital course materials, but not all options are created equal.


When broadly defined, digital course materials can include content that still falls under the umbrella of the traditional textbook industry or low-quality content from unreviewed sources.


For example, online textbooks from a big-name publisher would be considered digital course materials, but they’re often nearly as expensive as physical books. Plus, this still doesn’t solve the potential mismatch between your course syllabus and the material you assign.


Open educational resources, or OERs, are another widely used kind of digital course material. But as you may know from first-hand experience, OERs can vary widely in quality—good, bad, and ugly. Sifting through countless pages of mediocre material to find a useful resource can feel like finding a needle in a haystack.


The holy grail of digital course materials is a platform that is customized to your course, cherry-picked from the most reputable sources, and more affordable for your students with no added work for you.


For a good example of the kind of digital course materials that check all of these boxes, explore the Skyepack platform. We'll dive into specific features and benefits of this option later on.


The right digital course materials are a win-win for you and for your students. Keep reading as we explore the advantages of custom course materials for everyone involved.


Why do students prefer digital course materials?


As an instructor, you want to create the most engaging and accessible experience possible for your students. Digital course materials can help you accomplish that goal.


Affordability


Traditional textbooks are expensive. Students spend an average of $1,240 on books and supplies each year, according to the College Board.


And these costs just keep rising. Between 2006 and 2016, the price of textbooks rose by a staggering 88%! And that’s on top of other required (and growing) expenses like tuition, fees, and housing.


On average, digital course materials are much more affordable than their physical counterparts. Choosing a digital solution can reduce financial burden on your students.


Affordable materials can also lead to better learning outcomes and stronger course performance. When required material lists include an expensive book (or worse, more than one), some students may make the difficult decision to opt-out.


A whopping 65% of college students have avoided purchasing materials for a class because they were too expensive. Without the right course materials, students’ grades—and sometimes your own course evaluations—can suffer.


We don’t think any student should have to choose between academic success and a month’s worth of groceries.


Each Skyepack course is available to students for a low flat fee. And the price is for lifetime access, so your students won’t need to worry about being charged for a subscription or losing access to a rental. Some institutions also choose to bundle Skyepack course materials with tuition to provide a seamless experience for students.


Convenience


Whether it’s the beginning, middle, or end of the semester, physical textbooks have a long list of disadvantages.


When purchasing textbooks, students must choose between the long lines and potential stocking issues at on-campus bookstores or the shipping time from an online retailer. Waiting to receive textbooks in the mail can put students behind on required reading when the course has barely started.


Throughout the semester, students must lug around heavy books, keep track of multiple online passwords, or manage PDF resources. And when finals roll around, students who rented books have to return them with the hope they won’t need to reference the material in a future class.


In contrast, digital course materials include all the relevant content in a centralized location that is available instantly on multiple devices.


Skyepack’s convenient course materials are available on the web, iOS, and mobile, meeting accessibility standards for every platform. Students receive access that starts on day one and never expires, even once the semester is over.


Engagement opportunities


Traditional textbooks convey information only through printed words and images. While in-depth reading is still a critical part of education, advancements in technology mean there are plenty of additional ways to engage students with a more interactive approach.


Digital course materials allow for the inclusion of multimedia and interactive elements to enrich student learning.


For instance, Skyepack materials include engaging features including:

  • Embedded assessments

  • Interactive drag-and-drop elements

  • Audio and video

  • Photos, charts, and infographics

  • Animations

The talented instructional designers on the Skyepack team can build whatever interactive content you can dream up for your course.


Why are digital course materials an opportunity for professors?


Your students’ needs are a top priority when choosing required materials, but digital course materials like Skyepack also have many benefits for you as the instructor.

Custom-curated for your course


Semester after semester, you spend countless hours crafting your course to cover core subject matter, meet student requirements, and convey your research expertise.


Finding the right required materials to align perfectly with your syllabus is challenging at best and impossible at worst. You may need to settle for a less-than-ideal book, assign multiple expensive options, or embark on the labor-intensive process of developing your own collection of material.


By choosing digital course materials, you can assign required reading that actually matches your plans for the course.


The Skyepack team handles the entire process of curating and creating your digital course materials. While your institution’s e-learning department may take years to develop a course, our instructional designers can handle the process in just a few months.


Our Agile Instructional Design™ Process is an iterative approach that allows us to quickly build, launch, and improve your course materials. We do all the heavy lifting so you can focus your attention on top priorities like teaching and research.


Able to be tweaked semester after semester


Traditional textbook publishers try to increase revenue by releasing frequent updates to course material through new editions. Often, these new editions are just the same repackaged content with a few small updates. Of course, modern innovations, new insights, and industry developments are important to add, but many of these quick textbook updates are largely inefficient.


Digital course materials can easily be updated to reflect changes in technology, best practices, or just your lesson plans.


Especially in the era of remote teaching, you know that flexibility is key to a successful semester.


Skyepack’s iterative design process makes it easy to continue adapting and improving your digital course materials. Your relationship with Skyepack isn’t over when the material is launched; it’s a collaborative partnership that continues as long as your course is being taught.


Provides insight into student behavior and needs


Every student is unique, especially across different types of higher education institutions. Traditional books are one-size-fits-all across campuses that can be very different.


Commuter schools, two-year institutions, public and private universities—each learning environment has its own unique conditions. Students at community colleges, for example, are disproportionately impacted by high textbook prices.


Digital course materials are tailored to fit the specific needs of your campus and your students. And while they’re custom-built from the very beginning, they also evolve based on changing student needs.


Skyepack offers powerful analytics and data to help you (and the team) make improvements to the course, including:

  • Usage data. Skyepack provides detailed reporting about when and how your students interact with the digital materials for your course.

  • Assessment results. Embedded quiz questions and assessments can give you a quick glimpse into a student’s comprehension of a section or a detailed evaluation of an entire unit’s worth of material.

  • Surveys. If you gather end-of-semester feedback from students, the Skyepack team can use this information to continue making iterative improvements to the material, year after year.

Digital course materials like Skyepack can both generate and benefit from insights that just aren’t available with physical textbooks.


How do you create useful and engaging learning materials?


If digital course materials sound like a good fit for you and your students, you may be wondering how you can develop useful and engaging content.


The best—and easiest—option is to use Skyepack’s instructional design service to curate and create your digital course materials.


When you start working with Skyepack, there’s absolutely no cost to you as the instructor. And once your course is curated, designed, and launched, your students purchase lifetime access for a small flat fee.


Curious how this works? Ahead, we’ll break down the steps of our Agile Instructional Design™ process to show how we bring your digital course materials to life.

Step 1: We analyze and determine your students’ needs.

Our instructional design team takes a deep dive to truly understand your course. We review everything we can to make sure we understand your current teaching strategy, including:

  • Learning objectives

  • Topics covered

  • Current learning resources used

  • Assessment strategies

  • Student needs

We’re not trying to change your instructional practices here (unless you want us to make recommendations!). Our team is focused on learning about you and your class.


Step 2: We research and identify the resources that can be incorporated into your course.

Next, we identify available learning resources that help the digital course materials cover all necessary topics and fulfill your learning objectives. In this stage, we may also identify possible areas for overall course improvement.


Step 3: We design your unique course material and learning flow

One key benefit of digital course materials is the flexibility to organize content in the most effective way. Our instructional design team develops the layout and flow of your course content to keep things fun, engaging, and dynamic. Like every piece of our process, this step is customized to your current teaching practices.


Step 4: We curate content for your course from a variety of sources.


We leverage content from a selection of high-quality sources to create the best digital course materials possible for your students.


Our content sources are:


Peer-reviewed open source content

Online course materials have a bad reputation for being inconsistent, poorly formatted, or even inaccurate, but our careful curation process ensures we only find the best of the best. We only pull from open source content that is peer-reviewed and reputable.


Instructor-created content

If you have created materials like presentation slides, diagrams, or articles, we can include that content too. And don’t worry—Skyepack doesn't take any ownership of your original content.


Skyepack-created content

Our expert writers, editors, and instructional media specialists can custom create content for your course.


Licensed third-party content

If there’s a certain copyrighted resource you have to include, we can license third-party content to include in your digital course materials. If required, we’ll handle all of the permissions and documentation to secure clearance.


Step 5: We build your course to your specifications.

Once we have all of the data and resources in place, we start building your digital course materials. We will work with you to develop a collaborative project plan so you can have full insight into the process.


This is your course and field of knowledge, so you’re the expert. From start to finish, you’ll have the opportunity to review and approve everything we create.


Step 6: Your course goes live!

With Skyepack, students get day-one access to custom-built digital course materials. But prior to launch, you’ll have direct access to one of our team members to handle any hiccups that may arise. For as long as your course is active, you’ll be able to reach an actual person (not a bot or automated system) to make updates and changes.

Students and professors alike are ready to break free of the traditional textbook industry. By making the switch to digital course materials in your classes, you can create a more engaging and accessible learning experience for everyone.


Digital course materials combine well with other virtual learning platforms for remote teaching needs. If you’re looking for other tips for handling instruction during COVID-19, check out these resources:


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