Classes without textbooks? More colleges are giving it a try
PHILADELPHIA — When Natalie Flynn surveyed students in her Temple University intro to physical geology classes, she found half weren’t buying the textbook she used.
Many couldn’t afford it. “We were developing a very, very uneven playing field in the classroom,” she said.
That’s when Flynn decided to phase out print textbooks from as many of her courses as possible. She’s part of a small but growing effort at Temple to use or create online materials, including textbooks that are openly licensed and vetted — and perhaps most importantly, free to students.
Temple officials estimate the effort, which began in 2011 and has gotten buy-in from nearly 90 of the university’s 3,850 full and part-time professors, has saved students $1 million.
In the last year, Temple in collaboration with its library and university press began giving professors $5,000 stipends and support to write their own free, open texts. Eight projects are underway via “North Broad Press,” including a book being written by the criminal justice department for its intro course.
“We put it through peer review, copy editing and production,” said Annie Johnson, Temple’s library publishing specialist.
Many other colleges locally and nationally are taking similar steps to ease the burden of textbook costs, which can exceed $1,000 a year, according to some estimates.
“The goal is to try to create as much open content as possible,” said Steven Bell, Temple’s associate university librarian. “This isn’t something that happens overnight. This is a long-term project, but we are seeing a revolution.”
The move toward “Open Educational Resources” comes as print textbook sales continue to drop and rentals and e-book sales increase.
“We’ve seen textbook sales decrease by approximately 10 percent per year as students switch from buying new and used textbooks to using rentals, buying from alternative sources and embracing digital subscriptions,” said Lori Friedman, a spokesperson for Lehigh University. “Textbook rentals now account for about 30 percent of our sales.”
Some states, including New York, are funding efforts to make open resources more available to students. In Pennsylvania, academic libraries are pushing for state funding, as well as educating and training faculty about open resources, Bell said.
“Some ask why should faculty give away their intellectual content for free,” Bell said. “For many faculty, it’s a social justice issue, one of access.”
(Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News)
Temple University physical geology professor Natalie Flynn talks to her students about using a free website (on smart board) instead of a textbook, on the first day of class Aug. 26.