Program pushes professors to replace pricey textbooks

The Alternative Textbook Incentive Program brings awareness to affordable and free resources professors can use in place of textbooks. | Billion Tekleab/The Cougar

Textbooks are expensive. The average student can spend an upwards of $100 per class just to get their hands on the required books. Last week, the MD Anderson Library held Open Access Week in order to bring awareness to textbook alternatives and more affordable options.

According to previous coverage by The Cougar, early adoption allows the bookstore to browse and purchase from a larger pool of products, offering students more used and rental options. More than three-quarters of professors, however, had not submitted fall textbook adoptions by the University’s 2017 deadline. 

“Open Access Week includes events that thousands of different organizations, academic libraries, publishers and other nonprofit organizations across the world participate in that promote Open Access,” said Library Digital Scholarship Coordinator Taylor Davis-Van Atta.

Open Access Week celebrated and promoted open access, which is defined by the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program as “free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.”

The more professors switch to these free or cheap learning resources, the less UH students will spend on textbooks. The Alternative Textbook Incentive Program has the potential to save students hundreds of dollars by giving professors incentive to switch to Open Access or affordable resources.

The Alternative Textbook Incentive Program started earlier this year and is sponsored by the Student Government Association.

An event hosted that week, the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program Reception, was an opportunity for UH faculty to learn more about Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources, or OER’s, are resources that are public domain or under a copyright license, which means professors could freely use and re-purpose them for their courses.

“The goal is to get more and more faculty to be using open educational resources and affordable textbook options for students so that their education can be more accessible,” said Open Educational Resources Coordinator Ariana Santiago.

Santiago and her program work with faculty around the University to promote many different alternatives to textbooks in order to save students money. Santiago also wants professors to start using course reserves, textbooks students can get from the library or any other alternative textbook option.

“The most important thing about OERs,” Santiago said, “is that they are free to students. OERs also allow for the customization of classes and course material, giving professors a greater range of freedom on how they instruct their courses. Most importantly, OERs allow students to quickly and cheaply gain access to course materials.”

Other cheap textbook alternatives are Course Reserves. These reserves use a system where faculty can put texts at the library on hold, allowing their students to rent the course materials at no cost to them.

“It’s really great for small classes,” Davis-Van Atta said.

These alternatives provide many benefits and incentives to professors. Since everyone in a class can access them, it can improve learning outcomes and allows classes to adapt.

“Faculty appreciate the opportunity to try something new,” Santiago said. “I see people pulling from multiple sources and open textbooks.”

Along with benefits for professors in the classroom, the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program  offers rewards to professors who cut costs for their students. Professor’s who cut the most costs received awards between $500 and $2500 for their efforts toward saving students money.

The savings students receive can add up through alternative options. Davis-Van Atta said OERs could start to help save students money soon and well into the future.

“If we can replace core texts in big required courses in these first few years, those savings add up pretty quickly,” Davis-Van Atta said. “These savings will multiply as the years go on.”

Many professors at UH strive toward winning the program’s award, and some still try to save their students money even without trying to win the award.

“In my case, I wrote my own curriculum,” said Annette Fuller, a communications adjunct whose class uses handouts and an optional textbook. “I was happy to not make my students pay.” 

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