As a college professor, you see the positive impacts of knowledge on your students’ lives every day. Knowledge is empowering, and it gives people the ability to achieve their personal and professional goals. With the proper resources at their fingertips, your students’ possibilities are endless.
However, not every student does have equal access to learning materials and opportunities. Textbook prices increased by over 1,000% in the years between 1977 and 2015, and these increases far outpace general currency inflation. Along with absurd prices, students are often met with long, unpredictable delivery times and don’t always receive course materials by the first day of class.
In this guide, we’ll cover some key ways you can promote a culture of equitable access to educational materials in your course:
While most professors want to provide equitable access to all students, it can be difficult to prioritize the necessary tasks and responsibilities to provide it in their already busy schedules. Working with a service that compiles high-quality, custom course materials can help you provide accessible digital course materials on an intuitive interface that students can use from anywhere.
Let’s get started by learning what equitable access looks like in higher education.
What is equitable access?
Equitable access means that every student should have reliable access to the same educational resources, opportunities, and technologies.
Here are a few examples of what this looks like in a course:
Learning materials are offered in formats that cater to students with different learning styles and abilities
Each student has a device to access digital resources with
Learning materials are free or reasonably priced for all students
Implementing the policies and structures necessary to achieve these goals can be difficult, and oftentimes involves changing broader aspects of higher education that are outside of your control as a professor. However, there are some simple, actionable ways that individual professors can get started.
What are some ways to promote equitable access in college courses?
Use open educational resources.
Open educational resources (OERs) are free, open-access resources that anyone with internet access can use.
OERs are completely free for you and your students, removing the burden of paying for yet another educational resource. Because these resources are available in a variety of different formats, they can meet each student’s varied learning needs. For example, you might add OERs with videos or interactive elements for learners who need a more visually engaging learning style.
There are thousands if not millions of OERs online, and you're bound to find one that connects with the topics covered in your course. These resources tend to be more up-to-date than traditional textbooks, meaning that you can find more accurate, fresher information that relates to your students’ lives at no cost at all. Make sure to prioritize accessibility by choosing video resources with closed captions, images with alternative text, and other content that follows web accessibility standards.
How can professors carry out this strategy?
Tracking down, trimming, and compiling the proper OERs for your course can be time-consuming to say the least. To make the most of your time while still adding valuable (and accessible) resources to your course materials, consider working with an OER service provider like Skyepack. Guided by your curriculum, Skyepack has an instructional design team that will find and assemble the most relevant and useful resources for your class into a streamlined package of course materials.
Switch to digital course materials.
Digital course materials like electronic textbooks and scholarly journals often contain similar information to physical textbooks. These materials also tend to be much more accessible to students in a multitude of ways, which we’ll cover in detail below. As you design your curriculum and look for the best educational resources, be sure to consider whether the books you assign have a digital version students can access.
Here are a few of the ways digital course materials permit equitable access:
They are more affordable. While savings between physical and digital copies can vary greatly, digital resources can cost as much as 40-50% less than their physical counterparts. For many students, this can make the difference between whether they are able to purchase the textbook for the semester.
Students can access them immediately. With physical textbooks, students often have to wait for books to be delivered in the mail. School bookstores may even run out of textbooks assigned to large classes, meaning those students will have to wait even longer for restocks. Digital materials grant them access immediately so they will always have course materials by the first day of class.
Access is more convenient. Students usually purchase at least one textbook for each of their four to five classes which translates to a lot of extra weight in their backpacks. They can access digital materials from their phones or laptops, lightening their load and making it harder for them to forget important learning materials at home.
Adding more digital resources to your course can be a simple change. Maybe you just need to identify and highlight digital versions of these resources for your students. But if you need to take a more involved approach, it may be best to seek additional outside help.
How can professors carry out this strategy?
Making a complete shift to digital materials can be daunting, especially if a large portion of your course currently relies on and revolves around physical materials. However, a service like Skyepack that specializes in transitioning and delivering digital course materials can help ease the process. Skyepack does the heavy lifting of personalizing digital resources to your course and adding engaging interactive elements to enrich your students’ learning experiences.
Make course materials accessible from anywhere.
Even if your course materials are affordable and available across various platforms and devices, the way they are organized can still limit accessibility. For example, important reading materials for your next test may be buried in a folder within a folder in a hidden corner of your learning management system. Without instruction on how to find that resource, your students may never access it.
Traditional learning management systems can be clunky and difficult to navigate, both for students and professors. As an instructor, you’re probably familiar with the basic features and functions of your school’s LMS but don’t have the time required to truly optimize the system for your students. Plus, some systems just don’t offer a good way to lay out your course no matter how much time you devote to them.
Learning management systems usually function best on a desktop browser, making it difficult for students to view assignments and educational resources on mobile devices. Keep in mind that not every student has consistent access to computers and may rely on their phones or tablets to view online resources at home. Choosing resources that are mobile-optimized is key to providing truly equitable access.
How can professors carry out this strategy?
While you can buckle down and apply yourself to learning the ins and outs of your learning management system, the final product might still be learning resources that are disorganized and only accessible via computer. Skyepack’s service provides optimized access to learning materials on desktop and mobile browsers and through its mobile app. Since the software is cloud-based, your students can read the most up-to-date information anytime and from anywhere they need to. Additionally, these materials are well-organized and easy to use so students can quickly find and navigate to the resource they’re looking for.
For most instructors, one of their favorite parts of teaching is presenting new information to their students and watching how they choose to use that knowledge. Providing equitable access to educational resources might seem like an insurmountable task, but rest assured there are simple, manageable ways to make your course more accessible to each student you teach.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to level up your course, check out these additional resources:
How (and Why!) to Write a Course Syllabus. A strong course syllabus can help you start your course on the right foot. Learn how to write a syllabus that will keep you and your students on track all year.
Evaluating Open Educational Resources | Criteria and Rubric. Open educational resources can help make your course more engaging and meet each student’s unique needs. Check out this guide for some tips about how to choose the best resources for your curriculum.
Micro-credentials: What Are They? Should You Invest in Them? Microcredentials are one of the biggest trends in instructional design. Discover how you can use them to strengthen your students’ learning opportunities.