Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Textbook alternatives

In some Montcalm Community College classes, the need for students to purchase textbooks is being replaced with open access, high-level resources that are free for students to use.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are high-quality teaching, learning and research materials that are compiled by subject area experts, including instructors, and are adaptable to various learning environments. They often include selective readings, online sources, stats, graphics and more.

Biology Instructor Michelle Gibson, Library Director Katie Arwood and Instructional Technology Consultant Kevin Wagenmaker are leading the effort at MCC.

Gibson has shifted away from traditional textbooks in some of her classes. In 2018, she created OER materials to replace the $270 textbook for her Biology 105 - Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology course. Throughout the course of the year, the total savings in book expense for approximately 175 students enrolled in this course was more than $47,000. In all of her courses combined, Gibson estimates students have saved approximately $67,000 in book expenses since she implemented OER.

“My goal is to reach $1 million in savings for my students by the time I retire,” she said.

In addition to saving students money, Gibson said in many cases OER better supports student learning objectives.

“By compiling our own resources, we are able to bring more consistency to the material being presented by instructors,” she said. “I revamped the flow of material to match my teaching style and the order in which I present information. Other instructors may do the same.

“As an instructor, it’s my job to put the information together in a way that’s best for my students to learn,” Gibson added. “I wrote my book to fit the course objectives.”

Gibson said the information also is often more current and relevant.

“When we use traditional textbooks, they tend to include outdated examples,” she said. “Through OER, we can offer the same types of readings, sample quizzes and other educational resources that book publishers provide with the ability to update them in real time and at no cost to our students.”

Brice Spencer was a student in Gibson’s class and said he liked having the textbook online.

“I could access it from anywhere,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about forgetting to take my book to class, or not having it when I needed it.”

He said the information was relevant to the course and he appreciated the extra resources Gibson built into each unit module.

“The information we needed to know was in each module, and it was in the order that we were studying the material. When we went to a module and clicked the link, everything was there,” he said. “Michelle built in links to other websites for more information that was relevant to what we were studying, and she had review quizzes embedded in the units.

“Michelle also gave us websites for interactive games to help us learn material such as the names and locations of muscles and bones,” he added.

OER materials are available online and may be downloaded to some devices. For those students who prefer paper, the materials may be printed, and a printed copy is available at the MCC Library for students to reference.

Arwood said students are becoming more aware of their options and the library is experiencing increased usage of these resources.

“We have students who flat out tell us they can no longer afford to buy textbooks,” Arwood said. “They can still have printed materials. We have students who do selective copying of certain pages.”

For classes that are not using OER, Arwood said the library also keeps a variety of textbooks across subjects that students may borrow for two-hour time periods.

MCC Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Spohr said as textbook prices continue to increase and publishers change editions more frequently to curb the use of used textbooks, the movement toward OER and other non-traditional methods to access textbook materials makes sense.

“In some cases, textbooks are more expensive than tuition and fees students pay for our classes,” Spohr said. “These tools help to advance student learning inside and outside the classroom. Open sharing of resources also has the potential to fuel collaboration and encourage continuous quality improvement of course materials, which all support student success.

However, Spohr said in many cases the right OER materials are not available for instructors to use at this time, but the college continues to strive to provide additional resources for development.

“Quality OERs are not available for all disciplines, but when faculty find resources that work, we will provide support to change. Support is critical because it is a lot of work to redevelop a class to use different resources,” he added.