It’s no secret that textbooks are expensive.
That’s why Troy University is looking for ways to save students money by using low-cost and no-cost educational resources in the classroom.
A work group of faculty and administrators has spent more than a year developing a plan for using Open Educational Resources, which include textbooks and other resources offered at low or no cost.
“Part of the issue is the price of textbooks keeps going up,” said Dr. Hal Fulmer, associate provost and dean of first-year and undergraduate studies. “One textbook at $200 may not sound too bad, but a student with five classes would then spend $1,000 just on books. The good news is we live in a time where the development of electronic resources allows us to create learning resources and use those to support student learning at a reduced cost, sometimes no cost at all.”
Some examples of OER materials include free peer-reviewed online textbooks, public domain literature and multimedia presentations.
Several TROY faculty members have already explored the possibilities of OER, and their students are seeing significant savings.
“I’ve been teaching with OER almost a year now, and I was one of the first here to do it,” said Dr. Paige Paquette, an associate professor of English at TROY’s Phenix City Campus who recently switched from a traditional textbook to online resources. “I use an online textbook, World Literature Anthology, and there were (also) a couple stories I really liked in our old book that I found PDFs for. It’s zero cost to the students. They’ve been grateful they haven’t had to buy books.”
One of those students, John W. Newton, has seen a direct savings in his two courses that have utilized OER.
“As a student, it helps in that it defers the additional cost of books for materials that are already available open source,” Newton said. “It also allows the professor to better control the materials we need to know for that specific week or terms. In both classes, the professor just placed videos, lectures and the appropriate readings on Canvas in a PDF format. In one case, the professor used a PowerPoint we could download as well.”
The University estimates students saved $294,200 from Term 5 of 2017 to the spring of 2018 thanks to this initiative.
The most important aspect of this initiative, Fulmer said, is ensuring academic integrity.
The work group includes representatives from all five of TROY’s academic colleges, with the intention of addressing concerns and seeking out OER options that meet professors’ rigorous academic standards.
“The goal is to seek ways to reduce costs at same time that we’re maintaining integrity,” Fulmer said. “We want to give faculty the freedom to choose the kinds of learning resources they wish to choose, ensure the integrity of those resources and give them the ability to assist student with costs – those are the big three frameworks.”
Not all courses lend themselves to OER. Some disciplines, by their nature, will require traditional textbooks.
Initially, the University is directing its OER efforts at classes in the General Studies program.
“These classes have the largest number of students, and working to increase these traditional textbook alternatives in the General Studies program will have an immediate and important impact in terms of assisting our students,” Fulmer said.
For many professors, though, OER represents a chance to alleviate some of the stress from their students’ lives.
“It’s another way to serve the students,” Paquette said. “With some courses, it’s not as easy to do this as others, but for mine, it’s not that big a deal. I think it’s a great idea to do it if you can.”
Whether it’s in the form of online texts, YouTube videos or personalized content from the professors, Fulmer believes OER will be an important aspect of college life moving forward.
“As a teacher, I have realized I have an infinite number of resources I can build into my capstone course,” Fulmer said. “If the traditional view is you’ve got to have a textbook, that’s only traditional because, for so long, that’s the only medium we had. We don’t live in that world today. The issue for us is that the materials help the student and we allow the faculty to make the choice and have integrity. It is a rethinking of how we provide learning resources in the 21st century.”