University of Arkansas faculty nudged to put texts on Web

UA groups cite book-bills pinch

FAYETTEVILLE -- No student will be asked to purchase a textbook in Scout Johnson's U.S. history class this spring semester at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Johnson will instead assign a textbook that's available for free online.

"It helps our students tremendously by cutting that textbook bill," said Johnson, a UA doctoral student and speaker for the university's Associated Student Government graduate student congress.

The group and UA's Associated Student Government senate, made up of undergraduates, approved a joint resolution last fall supporting the adoption of what are known as open educational resources.

Open materials may be freely copied and distributed. UA does not comprehensively track their use, but in December announced an incentive program encouraging faculty members to choose free or low-cost alternatives to commercially produced textbooks.

UA estimates the per-student cost of books annually at $1,046, about 4 percent of the total cost of attendance for in-state students. The College Board, a national nonprofit organization, estimates that books and supplies total about $1,250 annually for students on average at four-year public universities, about 5 percent of a typical in-state student's yearly budget.

While open educational resources have caught on at a few college campuses, limited data suggest that the materials have not been widely adopted, despite increasing efforts to boost their use.

"If you're selecting a basic, entry-level textbook, there may be one available that has been reviewed and created by a person in the field that you can respect," said Lora Lennertz, director for academic and research services with UA libraries.

UA libraries and the university's Global Campus, a unit that supports online courses and programs, are offering awards of up to $3,000 to faculty members for adopting open access materials or up to $7,500 for creating course materials, with as many as 10 awards available this academic year.

With the new incentives program, "we are going to try to focus on classes that would impact a lot of people," Lennertz said, though there are no specific goals with the effort.

"We're trying to engage the faculty more directly with these kinds of concepts so we can get people on board and perhaps create those goals later," Lennertz said.

A national survey found that 5.3 percent of college and university courses required openly licensed textbooks, according to a report published last year by Babson Survey Research Group, which worked with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a group that has awarded grants supporting open educational resources.

The group's report was based on responses from 3,006 faculty members.

Respondents to the survey cited several barriers to using openly licenses textbooks, including a lack of resources available in a particular subject and the difficulty in finding materials.

Jeff Seaman, director of the independent research organization, said traditional publishers have made the textbook selection process easy for faculty members, sending book copies and having representatives visit campuses.

With open educational resources, "it's more of a burden on the faculty member to find out what's out there and how to get it," Seaman said. "Some of them are not convinced that it's going to be worthwhile."

Lennertz said faculty members may also be looking for more than books.

"A lot of the reasons why faculty pick textbooks that are available from publishers are all those auxiliary resources, quizzes, and practice sets," Lennertz said. "And so those are also materials that institutions like ours are trying to -- through the library, through instructional designers -- help people create."

More open resources are being produced, and awareness is increasing, Seaman said.

"It's a visible option, whereas before it was just an invisible option," he said, citing the growth of content producer OpenStax, a nonprofit that began in 2012 and now has published more than two dozen textbooks.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that UA faculty members are learning about the open materials but are not yet adopting them.

"I know that one of my colleagues is interested in OpenStax, which is a free resource," Mya Norman, who teaches an introductory chemistry course at UA, said in an email. "The only real issue is that you often get what you pay for, and I think you need to be very careful with free resources with respect to accuracy and thoroughness."

Open educational resources can be of any format, with some producers offering print options that would involve orders placed through UA's campus bookstore.

This year, the bookstore revamped the way faculty members select books for their courses. A feature of the new process is "to show them that these open source materials are also available," said Ali Sadeghi, director of the UA campus bookstore.

Course instructors receive an email with a link to information about books. The information includes an option to click to search a database of open educational resources.

However, no faculty members have ordered print versions of open access materials, according to bookstore officials. Print versions of open educational resources are not free. But the books are generally much cheaper than books produced commercially, Seaman said.

It's not tracked whether UA instructors are using open materials without requesting print versions. In general, the materials must be a match for the needs of the faculty member, Sadeghi said.

"At the end of the day, it is their choice," he said.

Shelby Cormack, an author of the student resolution supporting open educational resources on campus, said she has not spoken to any students who said they had been in a course where open materials were an option.

Cormack, a senior from Van Buren, studies journalism with a focus on advertising and public relations. She's also treasurer for UA's Associated Student Government.

She said the library staff brought the topic of open access materials to the attention of student leaders, and the cost of textbooks is a frequent complaint among students.

"I think a lot of students can't afford textbooks," Cormack said.

She said she has delayed buying a book to see if it becomes essential for a class. For the fall semester, Cormack said she purchased two books for her five classes, although all had assigned textbooks.

"You kind of just take the hit on the test for the couple of questions from the books," Cormack said.

Faculty members may know that not all students purchase assigned materials, but "I think they'd be surprised at the number of the students that do pretty well that don't have the textbook," she said.

The National Association of College Stores reported that the average price of a new textbook was $82 in 2014-15, up from $57 in 2007-08.

But the true picture of student costs is more complicated because few students pay the new print "sticker price," said Rich Hershman, vice president of government relations for the National Association of College Stores.

Used books and textbook rentals are also options for many courses.

Hershman said independent campus bookstores do not receive support from student tuition and fees, so textbook markups support operating costs. The UA bookstore marks up textbooks by 20 percent, Sadeghi said, with the money helping pay for basic expenses like processing fees and shipping.

"One way or another, it needs to be paid for," Sadeghi said.

He said textbook rentals began at UA about five years ago. Renting a textbook costs about half as much as buying it, he said.

The National Association of College Stores generally supports open educational resources, Hershman said. The group in 2009 released a position statement supporting open resources, stating that they "have the potential to expand the knowledge market and contribute to increased affordability of course materials for higher education."

"We were out there a little early" with the statement, Hershman said. But now, the production of open educational resources is "starting to grow and mature," he said.

Johnson, the history doctoral student assigning an openly licensed textbook, said she was impressed to see that the book includes prominent historians as editors.

However, Hershman said, the "support structure or incentive structure to develop OERs [open educational resources] is still kind of in its infancy."

Seaman said governmental entities could lead a push to expand open educational resources. The U.S. Department of Education in 2015 launched #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage use of openly licensed educational materials. Hershman, with the campus stores trade group, said states including California and Oregon have grant programs to encourage open materials, as do some private foundations.

"Ultimately the goal is to create more flexibility for faculty and then also find a way to lower costs for students," Hershman said.

Metro on 01/08/2017