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Belmont Faculty Weighs in on the Digital First Campus Mandate



Looking towards the spring 2024 semester and a whole new set of classes comes with the normal laundry list of tasks. 


Notebooks? Check. 


Pens? Check. 


Laptop? Check.  


Textbooks? Depends.  


Depends on the format, that is.  


For the fall 2023 semester, Belmont operated on a digital first model. This meant when professors ordered textbooks, the default format was digital. Professors had to choose to opt out of digital texts if they wanted their students to have physical texts.  


The digital first mandate was delivered to professors over email, with no input from faculty.  

This perceived injustice prompted Dr. Jonathan Thorndike of the English department to write a proposal to be presented to the faculty senate, asking for their help in pausing this digital first mandate.  


Receiving the proposal at a meeting this semester, the senate created a committee tasked with discussing the issue to come up with possible solutions as to what the textbook policy should be. 


“I think it’s more about freedom of choice, and being more aware of what educators and researchers who have gone into this a lot have determined about what outcomes are,” said Thorndike. “The people that made this decision were not going to class four times a day and seeing what this does to our classroom.”  


Though Thorndike sees advantages to both digital and print, he believes print to be the most impactful in his courses. Above all, he just wants the ability to make that decision for himself. 

 

“If the goal of education is to transform lives… you want to do the best thing that’s most appropriate, the best thing possible,” said Thorndike.  


Thorndike received help writing the proposal from others in the English department. Dr. Joel Overall provided formatting aid and is hopeful that the committee will produce fruitful discussion.  


“There wasn’t really any ability to talk about things… the advantages of both, and how we understand it that way. It just felt like we were transitioning, and this is going to be the new thing,” said Overall. “And I think faculty choice had always been a big part of the plan. But I hope that the marketing of textbook adoption also takes that turn as well - that faculty choice is the most important thing moving forward, digital or print.”  


Other professors were frustrated by the lack of input from faculty.

  

Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a biology professor, is a member of the committee discussing the digital first mandate. She hopes to ensure faculty have a clear choice in their classroom materials. 


“My sense is that faculty were not consulted. And that’s always a problem, because it does have such an impact on what we do in our class,” said Thomas. “I would like to think that we would have a choice in everything that we do in our classes, including how students get the materials from us.”  


In her classroom, Thomas prefers a print text, allowing her students to annotate figures and stay present in the classroom.  


The textbook format is an issue for students as well, as those most affected by the learning structure of a classroom.  


For junior Annie Wardroup, her preferred format depends on her class. But she wants her professors to make that decision for themselves.  


“Personally, I have experienced classes where a physical textbook works so much better than a digital textbook, and I’ve seen it vice versa as well,” she said. “Because it is such an integral part of the way you use a class and the way the classroom functions, I think that the professor knows their class better than what a whole university mandate can account for.” 

 

The committee hopes to have their first meeting before the conclusion of the Fall 2023 semester. Professors are aiming to take back the reins on classroom materials – leaving the choice of digital vs. print up to each other, not university policy.  


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This article was written by Katie Beth Cannon

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