LUO tests free textbook program through Inclusive Access Fee

Starting Fall 2018, all Liberty University Online undergraduate courses will be part of the Inclusive Access initiative, which will not only provide online undergrad students with free books and resources for their classes, but also will personalize each student’s learning experience.

“If I’m a student, historically, I would have bought a textbook, and now, I don’t do that,” Connie Allison, the executive director of the Center for Academic Development, said. “(The new initiative is) not just a replacement and saying, ‘Well, great, here’s an electronic copy of that textbook.’ It’s much more than that.”

While Allison admitted the initial appeal of the program for many students is free textbooks, she explained that there are other resources available to students through the four partner companies—McGraw Hill, Cengage, VitalSource and LifeWay— and the Jerry Falwell Library.

Inclusive Access is an immersive, personalized learning experience. According to Allison, the initiative uses learning science, which is the idea of personalizing curriculum based on a student’s interaction with course materials.

Essentially, online classes are enriched with links, questions to track progress and comprehension, additional reading materials and video tutorials, among other resources, which helps the educational platform customize a student’s online learning experience.

Though the upcoming semester marks the integration of learning science for all 700+ undergraduate online courses, the heart behind Inclusive Access is not a new concept.

“We’ve had probably 120 courses that have been in this type of program (over the past three years),” Allison said. “And so, we’ve learned, we’ve watched, we’ve redeployed, we’ve done a variety of things to kind of tweak it, and the biggest thing is we did surveying of LUO students.”

The surveys showed that an overwhelming majority of students did not like using eBooks. However, it also revealed that students who had taken learning science integrated courses reported having a positive and enriching educational experience.

“We’ve advertised the idea of free, which of course matters. It matters a lot,” Allison said. “But Liberty’s perspective … is to help student learning, and so if we can impact student learning by having all these (resources), that’s awesome.”

As the test group for the new initiative, the university is covering the costs of the materials for LUO undergraduate students, according to Allison. Residential undergraduate students taking online classes will also be able to reap the benefits of the program. However, an additional $38 per credit hour fee will apply, which will appear on the student’s account summary as the Inclusive Access Fee.

“Undergraduate online Liberty students will have the right materials on the first day of class … I think it’s a commitment to affordability and access,” Laura Bookmyer, the business development director for Cengage, said. “I’m hoping and feel confident that it will improve retention and students’ success and help them progress through their certificate or their degree that they are moving towards … It should help students stay in class and not have to drop courses because of cost.”

Liberty Online is using Cengage’s new subscription service, Cengage Unlimited, to provide eBooks and resources to students. With a launch date of August 1, 2018, Cengage Unlimited is a premier service dedicated to providing textbooks and educational materials to students at a lower cost than traditional textbook providers. Because the entire service is online, students will also have easy access to more than 20,000 Cengage eBooks and 2,300 digital learning platforms such as MindTap and WebAssign.

“(Inclusive Access) is an innovative partnership between Liberty and Cengage really to support the best learning experience for students,” Bookmyer said. “So, I think both for Liberty and Cengage, this was a partnership built on a commitment for students — providing the best learning experience to students, providing ease of use and making it accessible and affordable.”

In comparison to the changes coming to academic programs at Liberty, Allison reminisced of the recent construction projects on Liberty’s campus.

“Our physical campus has been under tremendous amounts of construction,” Allison said. “Because we had a master goal of where we’re trying to get to, we all said, ‘That’s okay because I know where we’re going to’ … We went with the idea that this was a kind of construction towards a beautiful campus … We’re kind of doing the same thing now with our virtual campus.”

While Inclusive Access is currently limited to undergraduate online courses, expanding the program to residential and graduate courses may be on the horizon, though Allison could not disclose any information about the timeline. She explained that introducing the initiative to undergraduate online courses is “phase one” of Inclusive Access.

“I think higher education has been a little slower than some industries to adopt the opportunities of this digital age that we live in,” Allison said. “I think (Inclusive Access) gives us some incredible opportunities to not just change what we’re doing at Liberty, but also to impact the field of higher education.”

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