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From financial and transactional data to usage and engagement data, transparency is key when it comes to course materials data

Course materials data: What to look for and why you need it

From financial and transactional data to usage and engagement data, transparency is key when it comes to course materials data

By Hercules Bontzolakes, Chief Technology Officer, Ambassador Education Solutions May 25th, 2023

Key points:

  • Course materials data is absolutely essential
  • With it, educators gain critical insights about affordability and accessibility

Course materials reporting, analytics, and financial reconciliation have become massive undertakings for schools these days. This is, in large part, because data often lives in different silos, platforms, and systems across campuses, making it difficult for schools to know what information is available, let alone how to compile and assess all of it. Additionally, some schools are plagued by time-intensive, manual reporting processes and student ledger billing, complicated by the number of affiliated schools and special programs for which student billing must be separated.

Yet, despite these challenges, course materials data remains a priority. It provides important and relevant insights that can influence affordability and accessibility, as well as help shape better teaching and learning experiences.

From financial and transactional data to usage and engagement data, transparency is key. Schools need to understand exactly how much course materials are costing them and their students, and they need peace-of-mind that their programs, including Inclusive Access and Equitable Access, are being accurately maintained. They also need visibility into student and faculty preferences and they need to know how course materials are contributing to education outcomes and student success.

Where Does Course Materials Data Come From?

Sources for course materials data span Student Information Systems, Learning Management Systems, Financial Systems, Content Platforms, and Course Materials Platforms. To have the greatest impact, data must be able to move seamlessly between these operational, learning and financial environments, and information should be easy to access and use. The key to a streamlined reporting operation that maximizes data visibility starts with integration management and maintenance.

Integrations between internal and external systems and platforms can simplify a schools’ entire reporting and analytics approach, streamlining the way a school manages, tracks and verifies course materials transaction and usage data. Additionally, when systems and platforms are integrated, data is easier to access. This increases the likelihood that information is current and timely and improves reporting accuracy.

Schools that have a Course Materials Platform integrated with their own systems as well as any Content Platforms often benefit from ready access to data intelligence in one location. Rather than having to gather data from each and every publisher or content provider and cross check it with enrollment and course information, everything is automatically aligned and centrally available, saving time and effort.

Why is Course Materials Data Important?

Course materials insights serve a variety of purposes, but the two primary objectives are financially and academically driven. First, schools rely on course materials data for clarity around costs. Looking at financial information in different ways can help schools improve textbook affordability. For schools leveraging Inclusive Access and Equitable Access models, financial reconciliations are critical to successfully maintaining these programs.

Additionally, schools need access to financial data by student to verify that they are not overpaying and to properly and easily post charges to student ledger accounts. Having the reporting process and financial controls in place to accurately track inventory levels, orders, usage, returns, licenses, duplicates, and opt-outs means that students and schools only pay for what they use.

Secondly, schools often look at course materials engagement and usage data to better understand what type of resources students are using most, including print, digital, rental, and subscription, as well as what that format might say about students’ preferred learning styles. Schools also look at data to see the different ways students are engaging with their materials. Specifically, digital course materials are full of actionable analytics. Assessing ebook and courseware usage data by student, course, program, and campus empowers schools to gauge patterns and identify at-risk behaviors so they can create intervention strategies.

Digital course materials can be the biggest culprit when it comes to reconciling transaction and usage discrepancies, and the gap that often exists between schools and publishers doesn’t help the situation. It’s important that schools have access to data that verifies which students are using which materials and when. This is especially important for students who use the same digital materials across multiple courses, or those who use publisher direct content in their LMS. Additionally, license terms need to be closely tracked so that schools know if they are paying for unused licenses, which should be eliminated.

For schools that offer devices as part of their course materials programs, analytics are incredibly important as well. Devices are expensive, and schools need to have easy access to data that tracks inventory and distribution processes, as well as tells them who has each device, which devices are in transit or pending pick up, and when a return is complete. Digital course materials analytics can also track what sort of device and software students are actually using, which is valuable information for schools that provide devices to students. 

What Can Course Materials Data Tell You?

Standard and custom reports can give schools the visibility they need to ensure their course materials programs are both efficient and effective. Example reports include the following:

  • Transaction and financial reports assess real costs and bottom-line impact of course materials. Schools can see what students spend and how many apply financial aid.
  • Digital usage reports help schools track license redemption so they can verify what is owed.
  • Inventory reports show which formats are most popular among students and when stock should be replenished so materials are readily available when students need them.
  • Booklist reports provide visibility into the kinds of materials faculty are comparing and selecting.
  • Affordability reports can influence student sell prices and compare costs of alternative formats.
  • Student usage reports demonstrate how and how often students are engaging with materials as well as what sort of devices and software they are using.

Accurately and regularly tracking course materials trends can help schools think more strategically, refine processes, and deliver the best possible teaching and learning experiences. More often than not, the course materials data is there, it’s just a matter of aggregating it from multiple sources and applying it in meaningful ways.

How to gain buy-in for digital course materials

About the Author:

Hercules Bontzolakes has extensive experience in global IT Strategy, IT Architecture, and IT Design & Implementation. He spent eight years in senior technology positions at The Princeton Review before joining Ambassador Education Solutions in 2009 where he shapes and leads the company’s technology initiatives.

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