CNM instructors create free online textbook in growing trend
Jennifer Schaller’s writing students don’t need to go to a bookstore to get the course textbook. They can go online.
They won’t have to enter a credit card number either. The book is free.
Schaller, fellow Central New Mexico Community College instructor Tammy Wolf, and a host of other CNM collaborators teamed to create a new text for the entry-level English writing classes that most CNM students take.
But theirs is more than just a free digital text — it’s part of a larger effort at CNM to use “open educational resources.” OERs are web-based learning materials that others can use for free, share and sometimes even alter to suit their own needs.
OERs differ from copyrighted materials because they “have been authored or created by an individual or organization that chooses to retain few, if any, ownership rights,” according to the website for OER Commons, a digital library.
Many instructors already use OERs at CNM, which has had an open educational resource initiative since 2015.
“None of my classes
use books from publishers anymore,” says faculty member Kat Flies, whose teaching repertoire includes anatomy, physiology and biology.
Flies began promoting wider OER adoption at the state’s largest community college while serving as a CNM presidential fellow during the 2014-15 school year. She says the worldwide movement toward OERs makes learning more mobile and affordable. Traditional textbooks average about $100, Flies says, but an anatomy book might cost closer to $300 when including software.
Flies, like many instructors, turns to existing OER libraries like the Rice University-operated OpenStax. OpenStax reported to Flies that 33 CNM instructors used its peer-reviewed books in the last academic year, which translated to an estimated $400,000 in possible savings for 4,200 students.
“If we can get … free books to our students, we can really save them a substantial amount of money they can then use for tuition instead — or just to survive,” Flies says.
She says OERs “keep popping up left and right,” and cover an increasingly wide range of subject matter.
But Schaller and Wolf instead decided to create their own, something to suit the students in CNM’s English 1101 (college writing) and English 1102 (analytic writing) courses.
They spent about 1½ years on the project.
“There was a huge learning curve,” Schaller says. “If I had known what I was getting myself into, I might not have said ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’”
Wolf says having a partner like Schaller was key.
“I’m not sure I would’ve tackled this beast on my own,” she says.
The duo started by scouring for the right material. They ultimately tapped seven other existing OERs, plucking the most relevant parts and weaving them together like quilt-makers. They also wrote a few chapters of their own and incorporated input and editing help from other English department faculty.
“It’s a really collaborative process. Even though (Wolf) and I are the ones who did this (project) it’s not like it came out of nowhere,” Schaller says. “It grew out of our desire as a department to meet the needs of our students.”
After building the text-dense document with 39 chapters on subjects like thesis development and persuasive writing, the pair turned it over to staff at CNM’s Distance Learning department. They coaxed it into a more attractive digital package, adding pictures, colorful charts and even videos.
The final result would span 498 pages if printed.
Wolf says at least 13 CNM instructors are using it this fall. And the possibility exists that instructors in, say, Minnesota or South Carolina could one day use it, too.
The text references several CNM-specific resources — like the campus tutoring center and libraries — and the duo say they created the book for the CNM community. However, they have licensed it with “Creative Commons” marks, enabling others to “remix, tweak and build upon” the work as long as they provide proper credit and, when using the parts actually written by Schaller and Wolf, license their own work under the same terms.
Wolf says much of the content would work elsewhere.
“I don’t think that was our primary intention, but I absolutely think it will be a great resource for instructors teaching introductory (courses) anywhere,” she says.
To access the new book, go online to www.cnm.edu/english and scroll down to the middle of the page.