How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted issues related to access and affordability of course materials? The Norton Learning Blog recently sat down with Lauren Greene, Norton’s director of inclusive access, to learn how the pandemic accelerated affordability trends in higher education and how affordability and accessibility are related.
How have the ideas of “access” and “accessibility” changed through the COVID-19 pandemic? What have we learned about how students access their course materials?
COVID-19 accelerated trends many of us in higher ed were already keeping a close eye on. For example, for years we’ve been monitoring the prevalence of ebook usage and interest in online assessments, two metrics that saw a huge uptick since the beginning of the pandemic, which makes sense since so much instruction had to move online to accommodate physical distancing.
Many of our instructors told us they felt really out of place in this new learning environment, especially at first, but I’ve been proud to watch my sales and service colleagues spring into action to support our adopters and their students during a chaotic time. Similarly, our book and media teams have been hard at work creating new tools that were built for the online space (for example, Norton Testmaker and a new “Core Selections” ebook of our flagship Norton Anthology of English Literature). All of these tools we create work together to form a cohesive learning package that is available to students regardless of their circumstances, and our ebooks are available for offline reading so students can keep up with their reading no matter where they are.
Another thing we heard loud and clear this past year—and another longtime trend that simply accelerated during the pandemic—is rising interest in course materials that can engage students and make content more accessible, interesting, and relevant. Our interactive ebooks and digital products like InQuizitive and Smartwork have long been popular, but unsurprisingly there was a sharp uptick in interest in the wake of the pandemic. Many new adopters who admitted they had been skeptical of digital learning tools in years past tell us they’ve appreciated how their students find our products cohesive, high-quality, and engaging—and they can’t imagine going back even once life gets back to normal.
We recently spoke with Norton’s Director of Accessibility and Standards about how his experience in a college disability office informs his approach to accessibility at Norton. We know that affordability and accessibility often go hand in hand. How does your work with Inclusive Access support both initiatives?
Can you really call something “accessible” if gaining access is cost-prohibitive to a majority of students? I don’t think so, which is why I’m proud to work for an employee-owned firm that has always priced materials with students’ budgets in mind.
Prior to taking on my current role as director of Norton’s Inclusive Access program, I worked as a regional manager for a team of publisher’s representatives, training my group to be consultative with their customers to make sure they devised creative solutions that benefitted all parties (the most important party being students). And prior to that, I was a publisher’s rep myself. In fact, most of Norton’s upper management started their careers in the field, and our personal experiences working with educators have been invaluable to our understanding of what instructors and students need to succeed. At Norton, we understand that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to a book adoption, and we’re always thinking proactively about how we can help from a broad institutional level all the way down to the individualized instructor or student level.
For readers who don’t know, what is Inclusive Access, and what are its benefits for students and educators?
Inclusive Access is an alternate way to deliver course materials where the digital course materials (ebook, videos/animations, and/or online homework assignments, to name a few examples) are integrated right into an instructor’s Learning Management System course for an affordable all-digital price. Students benefit by having immediate access on the first day of class without having to deal with a registration code or waiting for financial aid to clear. This sets all students up for success in the course, and instructors benefit in knowing that their students have easy access to high-quality learning materials at a fair price. Often campus bookstores play an integral role in delivering course materials to students in this way.
Though Inclusive Access programs have been increasingly popular for years among instructors who teach in online, hybrid, or face-to-face learning environments—for all of the reasons I’ve just mentioned—when I think about the benefits of IA programs I can’t help but think back to the onset of the pandemic. At the time Norton’s Support Center fielded thousands of questions from students separated from their books left behind on campus. Norton’s customer support team quickly rose to the occasion to help—but I was glad that, in such a chaotic time, our Inclusive Access customers had one less thing to worry about. I think it’s fair to say that the sharp rise in interest for Inclusive Access programs we’ve seen since well before the pandemic is testament to the idea that instructors and students can focus on teaching and learning when access to high-quality course materials isn’t a concern.
What affordability initiatives are you most excited about at Norton?
I’m excited about the new partnerships and innovative delivery models that many institutions are using to bring course materials to students, and that we can be a part of that. Affordability is really just part of Norton’s DNA as an employee-owned firm, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about other initiatives at Norton that I think intersect with the goal of delivering high-quality content to give every student an equal chance at success in college. Chief among them is our expanded commitment to further the goals of educational equity. You can read a bit more about those ongoing efforts here (and sign up if you’re interested in partnering with us toward this important goal). I think it’s a great example that when it comes to course materials, “accessibility” has so many meanings, and we’re excited to be part of that mission not purely with affordability, or with respect to disability, but also with inclusive, rigorous, and equity-minded learning tools.
Where can we learn more about Norton’s Inclusive Access program?