According to a 2014 nationwide survey of college students, 65% of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. Nearly half of the students surveyed indicated that the cost of textbooks was a factor in deciding which classes to take or how many classes to take each semester.
Research conducted by the College Board indicates that the average cost of books and supplies for a college student in one year is now $1,230 for private four-year colleges. The Carpe Diem Blog indicates that the average price of a college textbook is up 945% in 2014 compared to 1978. In the same time period, the Consumer Price Index rose 262%.
What can TCU faculty do to help students in this era of high textbook costs? One solution is for TCU faculty to adopt textbooks and other educational resources that are freely available online. These types of free resources, including free textbooks, are commonly known as “Open Educational Resources,” or OER. OER include textbooks but also can include such resources as course readings, quizzes, or other assessment tools. From a student perspective, OER have many benefits, beyond the wallet. OER are also easy to use, because they are available online, and they can be downloaded and saved forever. Multiple studies conducted among college students indicate that students who use OER have both lower dropout rates and have better grades than students in comparable courses using traditional textbooks.
The question that immediately follows then is “what is the quality of open textbooks?” Are they peer-reviewed? Are they credible? The answer is yes, they can be peer- reviewed and usually are credible. There are many providers of open textbooks, but let us consider our in-state neighbors at Rice University. Their OpenStax initiative offers over 30 textbooks in a variety of subjects. Each is rigorously peer-reviewed by experts in the field. Other major OER publishers have similar quality controls. Whether using a traditional printed textbook or an OER, it is important to use your judgment to ensure that the provider is using appropriate quality-control standards.
As a TCU faculty member, how can you use open textbooks or other OER in your courses? As with any textbook adoption, it is important to consider the course objectives. Next, what do the peer reviews say about the quality of the material? Once you have decided that a particular resource is right for your class, it can be as simple as providing a link for your students to use for downloading or viewing online.
One positive aspect of using an open textbook or other OER is that it doesn’t have to be an “all or none” resource. Because open educational resources are free and normally have few copyright restrictions, it is easy to pick and choose from multiple resources. Perhaps you only need a single chapter from one text. It is possible to “remix” from a variety
of resources if that best meets the needs of your students.
Commonly Asked Questions
Where can you find quality Open Education Resources?
Many universities and other organizations have developed repositories of open materials. Here are a few examples:
Can I create my own open textbooks or other OER?
Yes! One way to do this is to find an existing open resource and adapt it for your needs, filling a gap in the resource for others to then use. In most cases, as long as you give attribution to the original author, there are no copyright concerns. You can put the newly modified resource on your own site or upload it to an OER collection. You could also develop your own open textbook from scratch.
Are there print copies available?
Yes, in most cases. In addition to the freely available online resource, many open textbook providers make hard copies available via campus bookstores and other retailers. Normally the cost to purchase these hard copies is lower than for comparable traditional textbooks.
Where can I learn more?
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has an excellent primer on OER. Please also contact me—I would enjoy having a conversation with you on how to adopt OER for your classroom. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.