$33,000 in UA grants aim to cut student textbook costs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Five professors will receive a total of up to $33,000 as part of a new grant program encouraging University of Arkansas, Fayetteville faculty to use low-cost, open-access educational materials.

"We are working to lower the cost of textbooks for students. That is the main goal," said Kelsey Lovewell Lippard, public relations coordinator for UA's libraries.

Open educational resources are available at little to no cost. The materials can take various forms, including books, lesson plans and electronic or online resources.

In contrast to textbooks that fall under copyright, open educational resources generally are available through an open license, meaning they are free for anyone to use.

The first UA grants have mainly been awarded to faculty teaching introductory or core classes, Lovewell said, with the university in a statement estimating that more than 1,000 students will have lower textbook costs because of the projects supported by the grant incentives.

Awards to faculty varied, from up to $3,000 for adopting open access materials to up to $7,500 for creating new materials, with top award amounts to be paid out upon full adoption or creation, and after materials have been used and evaluated.

"We really wanted to make sure that the money would go where it was needed the most and where it would have the most impact," Lovewell said. UA's libraries partnered in the grant program with the university's Global Campus, a unit that supports online learning.

Lovewell said UA does not track how many faculty use open access materials, but limited data suggest they have not been widely adopted.

UA campus bookstore managers in December said no faculty had ordered open access materials. Student leaders with UA's Associated Student Government last fall approved a resolution supporting the adoption of open access materials, citing the cost of textbooks.

A national survey found that 5.3 percent of college and university courses required open access materials, according to a report from Babson Survey Research Group, working with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The foundation supports an open educational resources initiative.

Electrical engineering students in Jingxian Wu's signals and systems class typically can find the textbook he's assigned for about $150, Wu said in an email.

He said he teaches only loosely from the textbook, having prepared a large amount of his own teaching materials.

Once the materials are fully developed, "students will no longer need to purchase a textbook for the associated class," Wu said.

He expects to have the materials ready by fall 2018 for his class, which enrolls about 65 students, he said.

Wu said he's long been interested in publishing his teaching materials but lacked the time, crediting the university grant with getting him started on the project.

He added that he has benefited as a user of open access materials, referring to what are known as massive open online courses.

"I like the open access model and want to be part of it," Wu said.

Zhenghui Sha, a mechanical engineering assistant professor, said he will begin adopting open access materials this fall.

He said he sees the materials as complementing a textbook for an engineering design course he teaches, which he expects will enroll about 50 students this fall.

"I'm thinking I'd like to take it step-by-step first," Sha said, with his plans involving the use of open access videos and journals in the upper-level course taken by mechanical engineering majors.

The textbook is "quite expensive" -- perhaps more than $200, he said -- but textbooks have long been used in traditional engineering programs, Sha said. It's "still too early to know" if open access materials can take their place, he added.

"That's also the motivation for me, to adopt this in an upper-level class so that we can see how the effect looks like," Sha said.

Garry McDonald, an assistant professor of horticulture, said he plans to develop materials for students when they enroll in his course on the identification and use of trees, shrubs and similar plants.

"The costs of textbooks are just skyrocketing," McDonald said.

He said he has in the past assigned students an $85 paperback textbook with few illustrations.

His plan now is to take a few hundred photographs to add to his existing collection of plant images. Students will be able to access via the campus library a combination of text and high-quality images of species like the sugar maple and red oak, McDonald said.

Twenty-five students typically enroll in the course, McDonald said, and it may take a year to create the open access materials.

"One of the ultimate goals is to make this information open source to the library and also to make it available to landscape professionals and just the general public," he said.

Michael Thomsen, an agricultural economics professor, and Patricia Herzog, a sociology assistant professor, also are recipients of the open access faculty grants.

Metro on 04/29/2017