Brad Wheeler doesn’t just talk about Inclusive Access — he evangelizes about it. As a professor at Indiana University (IU) Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business and the university’s former vice president for IT, he’s been spreading the good word about it since 2009. That’s when he went to the Consumer Electronics Show, noticed the sea of next-gen portable reading devices, and saw in them the future of education at IU.
Energized, he returned to Bloomington with a message for his colleagues: Let’s start working on the future today.
Blazing a new path forward
Over the next few months, Wheeler shared his vision with students, faculty councils, deans and other stakeholders across all of IU’s eight campuses. The idea was simple but revolutionary: Deliver digital course materials to students on the first day of class through a learning management system. Costs would be low and covered through student fees and financial aid. Educators would have the autonomy to choose the materials and formats they deem best for their class.
We now have a name for that type of program: Inclusive Access. Designed by institutions and guided by the U.S. Department of Education, this program delivers digital learning resources to students, at a significantly reduced cost, on or before the first day of class. Learners can choose the resources that work best for them or, if they prefer, opt out of the program altogether. Schools and publishers began adopting it in 2016, and today, McGraw Hill offers its materials through Inclusive Access at more than 1,500 schools.
But back in 2009, the concept was still so new, and naturally, Wheeler’s colleagues had questions. Would digital content work across disciplines? Could it accommodate students who have assistive needs? Would it work the same for in-person and remote learning? Could it actually save students money? How exactly would the school get its hands on all the digital content needed to pull this off?
That last question posed a unique logistical hurdle, because at that point, there was no business model the university could replicate. IU was on the “bleeding edge” of this type of program, as Wheeler describes it. So the school ended up creating its own model patterned after the way it purchased campus-wide software from Microsoft.
The next hitch? Finding a publisher that had the breadth and depth of quality content, the technical capabilities and the willingness to partner on building something from the ground up. McGraw Hill was the first to raise its hand.
With a publisher on board, and buy-in from students, faculty and administrators, IU launched a small pilot, called eTexts, in 2010. It was by all measures a success. In January 2012, the university rolled out a full-scale version, and every year since has added more sections and publishers. The cost savings have been significant: Since its inception, eTexts has saved students more than $50 million.
“The key thing we’ve proven is that this shift to electronic access works,” Wheeler says. “It works in Italian. It works in chemistry. It works in business. It works in law school. Because of that, it didn’t get pigeonholed. We were able to raise all boats at the same time across our different campuses, and principally by word of mouth. I think that’s what drove the numbers on every graph we have. Whether it’s a graph of the number of students using it or credit hours accumulated or volumes consumed, it’s been a march to the northeast corner over the past 10 years."