The Beginning

I have been in education for 11 years—a third of my life. I have been into technology for even longer. When it comes to technology, I’m self-taught and persistent. I work until I understand and am comfortable enough to help others. I think that’s how I fell in love with teaching.

I started at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in 2011 as an adjunct teaching ENG-114, Professional Research and Reporting. At that point, I had only taught 9th grade at a local high school and didn’t have community college experience. Having attended a private institution for my undergrad, I wasn’t sure what to expect in this type of college setting. While that may sound like a setback, it was just the opposite. Again, I fell in love with teaching. More than that though, I was in love with teaching at a community college.

I was hired as a full-time developmental instructor, and a year later, became the Chair of English. By fall 2013, I was the Chair of ACA (Academically Related or Study Skills), DRE (Developmental Reading and English) and ENG (English)—the role I still serve today. Over the course of my career at RCCC, I’ve witnessed quite a few barriers facing our students. Challenges you likely see every day.

The high cost of textbooks and course materials was a common complaint by our students. Rowan-Cabarrus is a Barnes & Noble College, and our bookstore would often sell out of needed materials—especially in our highest enrollment classes. Students would often turn to social media to vent their concerns, leading to several comments on our Facebook page that made me cringe. I saw these as cries for help.

Not surprisingly, our students were not prepared on the first day of class. They often waited weeks, if not a full month, before getting the required materials for their course—some of which lasted only eight weeks! As you know, and as research repeatedly demonstrates, if students lack materials from the get-go, they’re less likely to succeed. We continually saw students drop out of courses because they couldn’t catch up. I still have emails from students telling me they had to withdraw because they couldn’t afford the textbook, and needed it to succeed in the course. Life and other financial responsibilities got in the way. It was heartbreaking.

With all these obstacles, our students were not performing to their true potential. As a college, we needed to intervene.

During fall 2012, our President reached out to see if I’d be interested in assisting with an e-Text pilot with VitalSource. I was interested and quickly said I’d help, but the committee and initiative never got off the ground. In spring 2013, my Cengage Learning Consultant, Erica Wilfong, asked if I’d be interested in piloting digital software in my ENG courses. I was intrigued, so I agreed to pilot in four of my ENG-111 sections. We used CourseMate from Cengage with access codes for an e-Handbook and piloted with nearly 60 students. At the end of the term, I surveyed my students. They were, well, in love.

Thinking it was a fluke, I ran more pilots in summer 2013; this time, expanding the pilots to another course, COM-231 (Public Speaking), with another Chair, Lyndsay Marrone. With COM-231 and ENG-111 combined, we piloted in nine 10-week courses. The surveys yielded positive results again, and excitement was a common theme. Our students enjoyed being pioneers.

In fall 2013, we expanded the pilots into more ENG and COM sections. I knew some of my ENG faculty would be resistant to change and learning new technology, so I addressed them head-on—I asked them to pilot. I knew if I could get them on board, I could get the others to follow suit without issue. I was right. At the end of fall 2013, over 600 students had tried e-texts. We gathered surveys that December and loads of positive feedback and great suggestions rolled in. “Get rid of the access code component; I had to repurchase my code because I lost the first one” was one example. I had made believers out of my faculty. While they were not in love yet, they spoke of new challenges—challenges they were encouraged by and willing to address alongside me.

In early 2014, we formed an e-text initiative committee. On this committee, we were sure to represent every area of the College: Student Services, Faculty, Administration, the Business Office, IT, Distance Education, the LRC, and of course, students. We wanted this to be a college-wide effort, even though the original initiative was faculty-led and driven. We knew that was the only way to be successful. We met many times in the spring. In the summer, we had a “break it” meeting where we all sat in a circle and considered every hiccup we could think of. Are students ready for this kind of technology across entire courses (not just sections)? Can we train faculty in enough time? Are there enough computers on campus? Were the cost savings worth all the change and innovation? The answer to each of these questions was a resounding: “yes.”

Our “soft” 11-course, course fee (no access code), embedded e-text rollout launched in fall 2014. I had hosted e-text trainings for faculty all summer. Along with my Cengage partners, I stayed on campus 50 hours the first two weeks of class that August for faculty and students to drop in for help as needed. We saw seven people: five faculty and two students. August was quiet, eerily so. I kept waiting for things to break loose, for technology to fail, but that never happened. Faculty and students were adapting. They were learning—together.

As a result of our preparation, RCCC successfully implemented an Inclusive Access e-text initiative that impacted over 2,000 seats spanning several Liberal Arts courses. We had done it. We were pioneers, as we were the first community college in North Carolina to collaborate with Cengage in this kind of endeavor.

As you can see, this initiative took approximately two years of conversations, research, and planning. We didn’t do anything in haste; we were careful, calculated, and cohesive in our decision-making processes—and in our intent. We had our students’ best interests at heart and that’s ultimately why we succeeded. Cengage provided the best customer service and support during this process. They also selected me to become a faculty partner so I could be on-site to assist students and faculty with any concerns surrounding the e-text and its technology.

All in all, we saved our students between 25% and 58% on textbooks and course materials. We embedded their materials directly into our LMS, Blackboard 9.1, thus providing access on the first day of class. No more lines at the bookstore. No risk of the bookstore selling out. We had solved all of those issues the very first semester. There was one issue remaining however: student success. I knew that would have to be addressed in the semesters, and years, to come. But at the end of the fall 2014 term, both I and RCCC were in love with our e-text initiative.

This is the first of a three part series. Check back soon for part two!