For the 2017 Academic Book Trade conference, the Booksellers Association commissioned a report (Resource Provision in Higher Education) to examine how teaching and learning resource needs might change in the UK as a result of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

One premise of the research was that the TEF is in part a result of changes that have been developing for some time, as well actually triggering changes, and this proved to be broadly correct.

The main vehicle of the research was a series of interviews carried out with university administrators, university librarians, publishers and booksellers. This was supported by three further interviews with TEF ‘experts’, a student focus group and Surveymonkey surveys with librarians, academics, students and booksellers.

All of the university administrators agreed that more electronic teaching and learning resources would be used in the future, often mentioning these within the context of ‘blended learning’ or material produced by the university itself, such as recorded lectures and the products of student-led ‘flipped learning’. With an eye on the UK National Union of Students (NUS) Survey, some said that student opinion of learning resources would be closely monitored.

All of the publishers interviewed except two said the TEF would alter their approach to new product development. Changes in approach would include less reliance on US editions; greater development of tests and assessment suites; more provision of supplementary materials and mapping products to learning objectives.

All of the groups contacted agreed that interactive learning resources would play a bigger role; and a third thought that more micro-content would be needed (twice as many librarians as academics thought the latter would be important).

Stack of books
Most respondents agreed that textbooks would still be needed in the future

Asked about the future of textbooks, all but one of the university administrators said there would continue to be a strong need for them; some indicated that e-textbooks would become more relevant than print in the future. Open Access textbooks were also mentioned, though few UK universities have developed these. The advantages of being able to access ‘broken up’ textbooks (individual chapters and even smaller ‘chunks’) was noted by some.

All of the librarians except one agreed that textbook provision has become an issue for the library; they are being asked to buy more textbooks, sometimes partly with funding from elsewhere at the university. Few English universities now expect students to buy their own textbooks.

The focus group students said that textbooks were recommended on their reading lists, but none of them was recommended a single core text. They agreed that lecturer approval was the single most important reason for choosing a particular textbook.

Most said they preferred to work from a print copy (this as well as other surveys has shown students’ opinions to differ from librarians’ perception that use of print is declining) and, if using an electronic book, they would be likely to print out the relevant chapter.

Student in a Lecture
Students said lecturer approval of textbooks was key

58% of the publishers interviewed said there was a continuing role for textbooks and indicated that they wouldn’t reduce their investment in them; 29% said either that the textbook needs to evolve from its present form, or is currently in high demand because academics aren’t aware of the alternatives; only 14% said they saw no future for the textbook. The booksellers were unanimous in observing that demand for textbooks remains strong.

Half of the university administrators said their universities were developing MOOCs or OERs or both, though few thought this was a particularly significant development. Three mentioned their universities were embarking on partnerships with publishers to develop such resources. More than half of the librarians interviewed said their universities were or had been (for some had abandoned the initiative) active in the development of MOOCs and OERs; others mentioned other resources, such as customised distance learning materials, that were being developed by their universities.

More than three quarters of the academics expressed a greater need for tailored learning resources (‘customised texts’). Some of the publishers said that demand for such resources was on the increase (others felt it had peaked).

As a footnote to these findings, at Cambridge University Press’s North American Librarian Advisory Board meeting which took place in May, Beth Bernhardt, Assistant Dean for Collection Management and Scholarly Communications at UNC Greensboro, gave a guest presentation on an initiative that she had led at her university to develop resources internally. She secured mini-grants for some faculty members to create OERs. The library helped, not only by securing the funding, but by helping to promote the existence of the OERs afterwards.

Beth Bernhardt
Beth Bernhardt of UNC Greensboro in the US

Clearly in the UK, too, there is an increasing role for internally-developed content to become part of the university’s learning resources portfolio. Future requirements will probably demand a ‘mixed economy’ of university-created and traditionally-published materials, with publishers in some instances partnering with the universities to provide ‘added value’ to the former.

Cambridge University Press is very interested in participating in such initiatives, and would be delighted to hear from universities looking for content partners.

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