At Indiana State, textbooks are a thing of the past for many classes, as faculty and staff come together to offer more dynamic — and less costly — ways to share material.
The first semester at Indiana State University came with a heftier price tag than Amber Drake anticipated.
But unlike previous freshmen classes that would have had to purchase a brand new book — one with a price tag of more than $140 — for Communication 101, Drake and her fellow freshmen are using the free, inaugural edition of “Introduction to Public Communication” textbook developed by Indiana State Communication 101 faculty for use in the course. The class is required of all first-year, non-communication majors.
“I’m taking five classes this semester and it cost me close to $900 for textbooks in four of them,” said the freshman nursing major from Merrillville. “Luckily, my Communication 101 text is not only free but can be downloaded to my phone and accessed from wherever I am.”
Open educational resources at Indiana State are providing greater access to higher education for all students and signifies a shift in values, said Brian Johnston, instructor and basic course director in the department of communication who worked on the project with colleagues across campus for a year-and-a-half.
“This is a radical shift in how we approach higher education. This open resource textbook that we have pioneered in the department of communication is part of a larger, philosophical movement that sees knowledge generation and dissemination as a collaborative process,” he said. “What I’m talking about is access, not just to a textbook that is a cost-saving initiative, but access to the highest possible caliber of knowledge.”
It is also part of the university’s new strategic plan, “More to Blue,” to make education more affordable through alternative means of sharing course material. In 2013, a pilot open educational resources program at Indiana State allowed five faculty members to opt out of textbooks in place of open educational resources.
Information technology instructor Jared Wuerzburger taught his first course with open educational resources that year and hasn’t looked back, despite the extra time to gather and create materials from scratch for the two classes he teaches with open educational resources in the College of Technology.
“Our job as an institution focused on student success is ensuring that we reduce barriers to getting a college education, which includes the cost of textbooks,” Wuerzburger said. “My students love (the open educational resources), and it is one less worry for them because they don’t have to pay for books.”
A total of 41 courses across Indiana State’s five colleges have been taught with open educational resources, including 17 new courses this fall.
Students are typically advised to budget between $800 and $1,200 for textbooks per school year, although surveys on campus have found that only about 60 percent of students say they actually set the funds aside.
Open-educational, or open-access, resources help keep textbook costs at a minimum. In just the last three years, Sycamores have saved an estimated $842,000, including $217,000 saved collectively by Communication 101 students this fall.
“We can adapt, edit and update this textbook after every academic year because it’s digital, it’s open resource and it’s ours,” Johnston said. “Two things change in academe that the traditional system simply cannot account for — our digital, global marketplace changes at an ever-increasing rate, so what employers need, what new global markets demand changes every year yet we have a textbook system where a textbook for a class may not change in 10 years, or three years at the earliest, and you’re already behind.”
Policies require professors to use a textbook for a minimum of three years, so there will be two years of used textbooks for students to purchase.
“If that is your goal, I ask my colleagues why not take a more serious look at what we have done in the Communication 101 course and take the OER turn?” Johnston said.
Aside from lower costs and infinite access to the content, the beauty of open educational resources for students is that even the lack of Wi-Fi or internet access doesn’t hinder use, as long as the materials were already downloaded as a PDF from Blackboard to a smartphone, kindle or computer. Students who want a hard copy can have it printed and bound at Ricoh on campus for $20.
“It’s online, light and easy to carry, so it better matches the lifestyle of today’s students,” said Lauryn Howell, a freshman criminal justice major from Terre Haute. “Because of the way it is written, it’s also easier to read and gives examples that freshmen in college can relate to. It feels like it’s personalized for us.”
Having served as an instructor since 2011, Johnston became basic course director for Communication 101 two years ago and began meeting with representatives from textbook publishers about a new course resource.
“In the end, taking the OER turn was the best path for us,” he said. “The publisher of the textbook we were using was making approximately $420,000 a year off of our COMM 101 students. So I looked at electronic books, but it’s not true student saving and they don’t get to keep the e-books, so they would be paying $80 for something they wouldn’t even get to keep.”
The math led Johnston to something that 16 years of professional training taught him not to do — he emailed the university president at 5 p.m. on a Friday with a crazy idea to save students money by creating an open educational resource for Communication 101 students.
“I believed in the idea and what’s awesome was that President Bradley emailed back within 10 minutes, and he got me networked with Jerre Cline and Heather Rayl (at Cunningham Memorial Library),” Johnston said.
More than a year ago, Johnston approached Rayl, assistant librarian at the university’s library, to begin the process of converting Communication 101 to open education resources, making Communication 101 Indiana State’s largest course to be converted to open education resources by compiling content from other open sources and creating original content.
“We had five faculty who used open educational resources the first semester we tried it, and we’ve been recruiting faculty ever since,” Rayl said. “Some may choose to adopt journal articles and other learning materials available online, while others may choose to go out and find an open textbook to use.”
Rayl is assessing feedback from 2,000 students on the quality, impact and use of the Communication 101 text to see how the text can be improved ahead of the next edition, which will be updated next summer ahead of the second edition’s release.
Through this process, Johnston met the “best colleagues I have ever been privileged to be around,” including Zakaria Jouaibi, an instructional design specialist in Extended Learning, who fixed images during his lunch break, or communication lecturer Ann O’Connor-Ledbetter and instructor Kathy Pine and Kourtney Barrett, associate director for student conduct and integrity, who helped lay the groundwork and developed content for the chapters.
“We’re not just saving our students money. We’re communicating to them the best values that represent being an ISU Sycamore,” Johnston said. “We’re talking about having a good attitude, being a good colleague, collaboration. Our students know the story of this book, how it came to be and that it is ongoing. Ann really laid the content foundation in the fall 2015, and Heather did amazing work over the summer converting the content to its varied formats.”
Chapter seven was co-authored with the associate director of the Office of Student Integrity and Conduct and the communication department, and the Career Center helped develop professional development material for the textbook.
“(The students) know all these different offices on campus are collaborating to give them the best possible product and, because it’s OER, they know they’re getting the most up-to-date skills and knowledge for our ever-changing, global marketplace,” Johnston said.
That means producing students with greater global awareness, so O’Connor-Ledbetter added a chapter on the topic to the text. Johnston also met with the Center for Global Engagement staff, which now plans to develop an assignment next spring to assess student acumen for global awareness skills for first-year students.
Not all courses may be able to shed their textbooks, but open educational resources work well with the basic courses required for all Sycamores. Because their feedback is essential to the effort, students are surveyed twice a semester about the material, and the results are promising.
“In post-course surveys, we ask students to compare OERs to standard textbooks, and no one says it hurts their performance. Plus, it saves them money so the benefits are apparent for students,” said Jerre Cline, an analyst with the university’s Office of Institutional Research. “We still have some, mostly older, students who would prefer to use a physical textbook, but more and more of our students are coming to college with a digital background and prefer the open educational resources.”
Faculty who opt to use open educational resources instead of textbooks can receive a $3,000 stipend for professional development and learn how to integrate the resources into their courses with support from instructional design staff.
“Going to OER requires faculty to redesign their courses from the bottom up because the lectures and PowerPoints that were provided with the textbooks aren’t there anymore,” Rayl said. “But the nice thing for faculty is that they get more control over the structure and order of what they teach.”
When the initiative started, Cline said there was a disconnect between students and Blackboard, which professors were having to use it more to share materials since their textbooks were gone.
“We had to help better organize the materials on Blackboard, so students could find what they needed,” he said. “It’s why we went to the instruction design and distance education folks for help and started a course for faculty who choose to use open educational resources instead of traditional textbooks.”
Now that more faculty are coming on board, there are more opportunities for Indiana State to create open educational resources and have a global impact on education.
“It’s hard to pay for school, especially textbooks, no matter where we are,” Rayl said. “Once we produce and release our own open educational resources, the reach is much broader than just our students. Then we’re helping make quality educational resources available to people all over the world.”