University students on average spend about $1,200 on course materials each year – a cost that has dramatically increased over the years along with tuition and living expenses. To help lower costs for students and increase access to higher education, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) created an online tool to help faculty find more affordable textbook options. The Open Academics textbook catalog, which launched April 23, is a searchable online catalog of open textbooks that will be peer-reviewed by faculty. For students, this means easy access to free digital versions or low-cost print copies of open textbooks.
What are Open Textbooks?
Open textbooks are published under a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to freely access texts without having to go through extra steps required to access traditional copyrighted material. The Open Academics textbook catalog addresses two major barriers to faculty adoption of open textbooks by:
- Making it easier for faculty to find open textbooks
- Providing opportunities for faculty to peer-review text to ensure high-quality content.
CEHD will support faculty who choose to review and adopt open textbooks with modest stipends. This catalog is the first and only tool of its kind that is hosted by a major research institution, further demonstrating CEHD’s role as a national leader in innovative technology in education.
Helping Students Access Higher Education through Innovative Technology
High textbook costs are one of many factors contributing to the financial burdens students are facing. The Open Academics textbook catalog aims to help students save on textbook costs and enable faculty to offer students low-cost alternatives to the traditional textbook. According to Student Public Interest Research Groups, the use of open textbooks saves students 80% on average over traditional textbooks.
A common misconception about open textbooks is that they are only available in digital formats. But all textbooks in the Open Academics textbook catalog can be ordered in print at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks to accommodate student preferences for print materials. In fact, an open textbook must be offered in print as part of the criteria to be in the catalog. Other criteria for open textbooks include:
- Must be under an open copyright clause allowing faculty to reuse and rework content
- Must be complete
- Must be appropriate for use outside of the author’s home institution
While many students say they prefer print materials, once they learn about the features of e-books they are happily surprised. For instance, students can take notes, highlight text, and even search within the textbook. Some e-book readers will even allow students to interact with the book, automatically compiling all the student’s notes, creating virtual flashcards for self-testing, and sharing notes with classmates. With e-books students actually gain functionality, not lose it. And the iPad makes it even easier for students to choose digital textbook formats. Last week, Dean Quam shared how the iPad has created a more dynamic learning environment at CEHD.
Since the launch of the Open Academics textbook catalog, there have been more than 24,000 visits to the site from 135 countries and territories. About a dozen CEHD faculty members have offered to peer-review the textbooks, and many other faculty members from around the world have offered to help as well.
As CEHD continues to integrate innovative technology into the classroom such as the iPad and offer more affordable course materials, more students will have access to higher education and interactive learning environments.
–Dave Ernst, Director of Academic and Information Technology
College of Education and Human Development
University of Minnesota
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