Using Open Textbooks in the Classroom: An Interview with Graham Dobereiner

This week is Open Education Week, a yearly celebration designed to raise awareness about open educational resources. Open educational resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are free to read and reuse. Examples of OER include videos, problem sets, slides, and textbooks. At Temple, faculty across the schools and colleges are using OER in their classes. Faculty often assign OER in order to make their course more affordable for students–by choosing an open textbook instead of a commercial textbook, for example, faculty can potentially save students hundreds of dollars a semester. Another benefit for faculty is it that OER are openly licensed, which means that faculty can remix and build upon the content, customizing the material to meet the needs of their particular class.

One Temple faculty member who is experimenting with using an open textbook in his classes is Assistant Professor of Chemistry Graham Dobereiner. Dr. Dobereiner teaches General Chemistry, a series of two semester-long courses for science majors, pre-professional students, and others in science related fields. In General Chemistry, students have a choice between using two different textbooks: Chemistry, an open textbook published by OpenStax and available for free online, or Principles of Chemistry, a traditional textbook published by Pearson. Dr. Dobereiner agreed to answer a few of our questions about how this works:

You recently surveyed your students to find out their attitudes towards and use of both the OpenStax textbook and the Pearson textbook. What did you find?

Among the 172 students that responded to the survey, course performance was independent of the choice of book. Use of a textbook – any textbook – correlates with performance in the course. Students who reported that they completed all readings received higher grades, regardless of textbook used.

Attitudes towards the open textbook (OpenStax) were mixed. Adoption rates were high: 75% of respondents used OpenStax at some point during the semester and 59% only used OpenStax. But when asked to give advice to students in next year’s class, 40% recommended OpenStax, 24% Principles of Chemistry, and 28% both textbooks.

Were you surprised by these results?

Yes, some results were surprising. We often hear students are hesitant to purchase a traditional textbook, particularly if it isn’t required for a course. But 30% of survey respondents read from the traditional textbook at some point during the semester. 17% of the respondents only read from the traditional textbook, and in general they showed greater satisfaction with their textbook choice – even though their course performance matched the rest of the class.

Other results were sobering. Only 14% of respondents completed all of the assigned readings, and only 10% of OpenStax readers did so.

Will the results of the survey have any impact on how you teach the course next year?

Yes, it may. I want to look at strategies to boost student textbook use. The course syllabus may need to be rearranged; it is currently organized around the traditional textbook, and so the assigned OpenStax readings were out of order, which may have reduced student textbook use.

What would you tell other faculty who are considering using an open textbook?

Free, open textbooks have their advantages, but they are not a panacea. I would encourage faculty to critically evaluate an open textbook just as they would any traditional text.

Thank you Dr. Dobereiner!

Are you interested in learning more about using open textbooks in the classroom? Sign up for one of our upcoming workshops: March 15, 12:00-1:00 pm and March 21, 3:30-4:30. The first 10 instructors who register and write a brief review of an open textbook that is accepted for publication by the Open Textbook Library will receive a $200 stipend.

A New Collaborative Model for Open Textbook Publishing

“Supporting OER [open educational resources] means supporting maximum equity and access within education, allowing all students to learn with the up-to-date content, regardless of their economic background” – Cable Green, Director of Open Education, Creative Commons

Adopting open textbooks saves students around the world millions of dollars and allows faculty to share their knowledge globally. Most open textbooks use a CC BY attribution license from Creative Commons that makes it easy to share and adapt the content.

Many aspects go into creating an open textbook, so why not crowdsource talent? That is exactly what is happening with an exciting new model for open textbook publishing created by the co-founders of The Rebus Foundation, a Canadian, not-for-profit organization funded by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Executive Director Hugh McGuire and Strategic Director Boris Anthony have created an online collaborative community called The Rebus Community, to create a global, connected network of open textbook creators. All are welcome to join the community and contribute ideas for open textbooks or to become a contributor. It is the perfect way to support the creation of OER without necessarily having a lot of experience in open textbook publishing. They develop the software and tools to manage the publishing process; all you need to do is sign up! All open textbooks will be available in an open, remixable e-book format supported by Pressbooks.

Current pilot projects underway include:

The Rebus Community seeks a variety of collaborators for all stages of open textbook publishing and may include everything from chapter authors to peer reviewers and proofreaders. To stay alerted of open calls for contributors, join the Rebus Community forum at http://forum.rebus.community or follow their tweets @RebusCommunity.

Talking to Students About Textbook Affordability

alt textbook table

Image courtesy of Kaitlyn Mashack.

August 29th marked the beginning of the fall semester at Temple. As students started classes again, we thought it would be the perfect time to talk to them about affordable textbooks. So, we set up a table in the hall of Paley Library, and, armed with some flyers and our brightly-colored display of OpenStax textbooks, got to work. We thought we’d be doing most of the talking, but it turned out our students had a lot to say on this topic. Here are a few of their stories:

One student was very upset when she realized that her psychology textbook was going to cost her $200. She came to the Library to see if we had a copy, and was disappointed when she found out we didn’t have it (the Library has some textbooks in the collection, but doesn’t actively collect them). She told us she could rent a copy of the textbook for around $50, but before she does that she wants to keep trying to find a free copy. What’s the problem with this scenario? Well, while this student looks for a free or low-cost copy, she’s not actually doing the reading in the class. Instead, she’s falling further and further behind.

We also spoke with a biochemistry major who has never bought a textbook. He said he refuses to pay for textbooks because they’re too expensive and he just can’t afford them. He generally relies on Interlibrary Loan to get his textbooks. When it comes to lab manuals, he just photocopies them. He admitted that although this method has worked for him, it’s extremely time consuming. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of trying to track down free copies of his books every semester, he could spend that time studying?

Another student was in the Library looking for a copy of her $250 calculus textbook. Once again, the Library didn’t have it, and she wasn’t sure what to do. She did not have the money to purchase such an expensive book. We pointed her to the Open Textbook Library and found a couple of different options. She said she was going to ask her instructor if she could use one of the open textbooks instead.

To end on a positive note, we were excited to hear from a number of students who are taking a general chemistry class this semester from Professor Michael J. Zdilla. Zdilla assigns his students the Introductory Chemistry textbook from OpenStax. This textbook is available online, and is completely free for students to read, download, and print out. All the students we spoke with were thrilled that they didn’t have to pay for a similar commercial textbook.

Want to learn more about how the Library is supporting the use of affordable textbooks on Temple’s campus? Check out our Alternate Textbook Project.

Interview with Sarah Faye Cohen of the Open Textbook Network

OTN

This week at Temple Libraries, we are hosting Sarah Faye Cohen, the Managing Director of the Open Textbook Network. Based at the University of Minnesota, the Open Textbook Network was founded in 2014 to help promote the use of open textbooks. One way the organizations does this is through their Open Textbook Library, a searchable database of open textbooks from across the disciplines. As of today, the Library contains over 200 textbooks. To be included in the Library, textbooks must be complete works, have an open license, be available as a portable file, and be currently in use at a college, university, scholarly society, or other professional organization. In advance of her talk, Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the Open Textbook Network and open textbooks more generally.

How did you get interested in open textbooks?

When I was Associate University Librarian at Cal Poly, we were dealing with incredibly long lines at course reserves. As we were trying to address that challenge and learn more about students’ need for access to textbooks, we were also starting an open education program. When I learned about open textbooks, I saw a real opportunity for the library to support our students and engage our faculty.

What’s one thing every faculty member should know about using an open textbook?

That an open textbook offers them the opportunity to meet their course objectives and engage all the students in their classroom (as opposed to the ones that could afford the book) through the 5Rs: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. Every student can access and keep the book, and if you have ideas for how a book can be improved, you can make the change! Creative Commons licenses really are incredible!

How should faculty members evaluate the open textbooks they find on the web?

We hope that they will start by looking at the Open Textbook Library. We encourage faculty to use the reviews in the catalog from faculty at other OTN schools to help them evaluate each book.

Why should a faculty member consider creating his or her own open textbook?

I’m not sure that they should. I hope that a faculty member will consider using an open textbook and then perhaps adapt that book – one of the most powerful, valuable, and important qualities of open – to better fit their course, by incorporating their own research or updating the content.  If there is not a book yet available in their discipline, creating an open book ensures that students have access to their content because it is free, and that fellow faculty can use the book as a basis for their courses.

While open textbooks are free to read, they still cost money to produce. What model do you think best supports the long-term financial stability of open textbook projects? (i.e. foundation money, charging for printed copies, providing career incentives for faculty, etc.)

You’re right, textbooks are expensive to produce and there are a number of different models out there to support the creation of books. I think that the more higher education institutions pool their resources (including financial resources) and expertise to support open, the better.

Finally, what do you think about the recent announcement that Amazon is developing a new platform for open educational resources (OER)?

It’s great that big players like Amazon (and Microsoft and Edmodo) are working to support OER. This is a sign that OER is becoming mainstream. We support any effort that advances open education and improves education.

Understanding Open Educational Resources

openeducation

“Open Education” by opensource.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This week we’re celebrating Open Education Week at Temple University Libraries. The purpose of Open Education Week is to raise awareness about resources, tools, and practices that help increase access to education.

One way faculty can help make education more accessible is by using open educational resources (OER). What are OER? According to UNESCO, OER are “are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.” In a recent study, only 15 percent of faculty respondents said they had used OER in their classes. 39 percent of respondents said that they had never even heard of OER!

This lack of faculty awareness is a real problem, because as students know all too well, class materials such as print textbooks can be very expensive. Some students might go further into debt to buy their textbooks, while others just won’t buy them at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a growing number of high-quality open textbooks available in many different disciplines. One example is the American Yawp, a collaboratively-edited American history textbook created by leading academics from around the United States. You can find more open textbooks by searching the Open Textbook Library, OpenStax, and Open SUNY Textbooks.

If you can’t find the right open textbook for your class, consider creating an alternative textbook instead. Alternative textbooks are “textbooks” assembled from both library and open access resources. Unlike traditional textbooks, however, they are completely free for students. In 2011, Temple University Libraries started its Alternate Textbook Project. Each year, faculty can submit proposals for an alternative textbook. Faculty whose proposals are accepted will receive support from the Libraries and an award of $1,000. So far, 46 faculty members from across the University have participated in the project, saving Temple students over $300,000.

Interested in learning more about open and alternative textbooks? Come to our event, “Ditch the Textbook: Exploring Options for Textbook Affordability,” on Wednesday, March 9th @ 12:00 pm in the Paley Library Lecture Hall. Panelists include Temple University student Eitan Laurence, Associate Professor of Art Gerard Brown, Professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management Wesley Roehl, and Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Production Kristine Weatherston. The panel will be moderated by Annie Johnson, Library Publishing and Scholarly Communications Specialist.

Can’t make it to the event? Follow the conversation on Twitter: #openeducationwk.