How Florida State College at Jacksonville got the right materials in students' hands—at a lower cost
Published August 9, 2022
With its four, palm tree-dotted campuses and airy, modern buildings, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) is a sunny oasis in the middle of a bustling city. But for years a persistent issue cast a shadow over the start of every semester. Many of FSCJ's 45,000 students often showed up empty-handed to class on the first day because their course materials were on backorder or they inadvertently bought or were given the wrong version of the textbook.
This hiccup wasn't just inconvenient. It had a ripple effect that could be felt long after the semester started. Teachers often delayed lessons so more students could get their materials. Learners wasted two precious resources—time and money—on books they couldn't use.
FSCJ administrators formed a steering committee to consider possible solutions, and like many of us, decided the future was in digital. Their solution was Inclusive Access, a partnership between the school, bookstore and publishers that delivers digital course materials to students below market rates on or before the first day of class.
In the spring of 2021, the school launched a pilot of the program, named FSCJ ACCESS, in 17 classes. Some of the major concerns revolved around the courseware charge itself. Could these charges be accurately applied to the student accounts, pulled down when students opted-out, and reapplied when students opted back in? Equally, this all had to be done in real time. These charges would need to be automatically pulled down for students who never attended the class.
Easing pain points for students and teachers
Professor Alisa Aston was one of the early participants in the program. A decade ago, Aston, a professor of psychology, decided to replace printed textbooks in her classes with digital materials. The move was inspired by her own successful transition from print to McGraw Hill Connect's online courseware. But she also wanted to keep costs as low as possible for her students, and she knew digital was cheaper.
Right away, Aston could see FSCJ ACCESS addressed common pain points. For starters, the program helped improve communication between the publisher and the bookstore. "There are so many ISBNs for one book, and with FSCJ ACCESS, they're able to figure out which one is best and have it all set up in the system before the semester starts," Aston says.
To make things even easier for students, FSCJ ACCESS allows instructors to provide links to all the class materials in the Canvas course management system. "[Students] don't have to go to the bookstore. They don't have to search online," Aston says. "That, to me, is worth its weight in gold."
Other thoughtful features of the program: The cost of online materials is bundled into the cost of tuition, so students can pay for everything at once with their financial aid. And they can opt out of digital courseware, if they prefer.
But perhaps the biggest selling point of the program is that students have access to the materials they need as soon as the faculty member opens the course shell, up to two weeks early. Everyone is ready to start learning on day one, which means instructors can dive into their lesson plans.
Learners are also showing up to class more prepared. Much of this can be attributed to the design of FSCJ ACCESS, which requires students to interact with the material in order to complete their assignments. According to a survey of faculty members involved in the pilot, 50% noticed an improvement in students' readiness to learn in FSCJ ACCESS classes, and 70% saw benefits from students' instant access to courseware.
From high schoolers earning college credits to lifelong learners and everyone in between, FSCJ students represent a wide range of ages and levels of comfort with technology. Understandably, the learning curve differs among these groups. "There's a lot of support with FSCJ ACCESS, though it's not that hard," Aston says. "I think it's more a mental block for some who haven't been around technology in a while—you know, ‘How am I going to learn this? How am I going to do this?'"
Picking up new skills
Such was the case with student Shadarra Parker. She works best when she's organized. It helped keep errors at a minimum all those years she worked in banking, and it's been a saving grace the past three semesters she's been a student at FSCJ.
When Shadarra enrolled in the college in 2021, nearly a dozen years had passed since she had stepped foot inside a classroom. A lot had changed, namely the infusion of technology into nearly every aspect of learning. In fact, so far half of her classes have used FSCJ ACCESS, including one with Aston. The transition to digital was "really difficult," she remembers. "I was so nervous. I had never used anything like it before." The strategies that served Shadarra well in high school—writing everything down, for example—were no longer as effective, and assignments were taking twice as long to complete. She knew something had to change.
Luckily, two of Shadarra's oldest daughters were also in college, and they helped her figure out more efficient ways of learning. Her new studying style is a blend of new and old. Through trial and error, she's figured out how to manipulate the format of online materials so it works for her, and she complements digital coursework with color-coded binders for each class. It's a winning combination. "I'm making good grades, but I'm also completing the work and retaining the information," she says. "It's made me a more efficient learner."
FSCJ ACCESS is also convenient, which as a mom of five, with a sixth on the way, is crucial for Shadarra. She appreciates one less trip to the bookstore and enjoys having all the links to the course materials right there in her laptop. In fact, she's started seeking out online classes for next semester, which she plans to attend remotely due to her pregnancy. "That's the way things were during COVID, and that's the way the world is going anyway—with more things on the Internet," she says. "And you know what? I'm just rolling with it."
A bright future
Shadarra isn't the only one rolling with FSCJ ACCESS. According to a survey, 97% of students said they would participate in another ACCESS class, and 90% of faculty said they would teach another ACCESS class.
Not surprisingly, momentum has been gaining around the program, says Dr. Richard H. Turner, associate vice president of Academic Operations at FSCJ. After the pilot, it expanded to more than 200 sections in the summer of 2021 and grew to more than 300 sections in the fall of 2021. On average, it saves students $18.89 per credit hour. "This program was clearly a win for everyone involved," he says. "As we approach the launch of the fall term in 2022, we are observing significant growth in FSCJ ACCESS, with over 730 sections in the program."