By using alternatives to traditional textbooks, instructors have the power to help students save money on a rising “hidden” cost in higher education.

Textbooks are expensive.  “According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041 percent increase” (NBC News).  Many students opt not to purchase textbooks due to cost, which penalizes the neediest of students.  What can instructors do to ensure students have equal access to course material?

Many large textbook publishers such as Pearson Education and McGraw Hill have created online components that function much like entire courses, complete with animations, quizzes, and other exercises.  Those resources also come with a cost, however.  How can we evaluate the quality of these publisher materials to ensure students are getting the most bang for their buck?

Several sessions at the Quality Matters Regional Conference offered solutions to these problems.

Adopt open educational resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) provide freely available online material to use in your course.  Information is organized by course title, making materials easy to find.  You can pick and choose the content you want to adopt.  Best of all, there’s no cost to either instructors or students.  Here are some resources to get you started using OER:

Use a “living” textbook

Open educational resources do not exist for every subject, and they may not be updated regularly.  So why not create your own textbook?  Excelsior College created an Online Writing Lab (OWL), a freely available online textbook for anyone to use.  Starting with just a few discrete topics, they then expanded the project— now no physical textbook is required in their writing courses.  Instructors can link to any section within the OWL, and they can update their material anytime (rather than depending on the yearly update cycle from publishers).

Students like the variety of multimedia, the use of humorous memes and imagery, and easy bookmarking of information for future use.  I found the Additional Resources section of the OWL particularly useful, as it comes with guides for integrating the OWL into an existing writing course.

Assess publisher materials

If no existing online material works for your course, you may decide that the easiest thing to do is use the online component to your textbook.  But have you ever taken a critical look at it?  If you had to choose between two or more publishers’ resources, what are the critical elements to look for?  Excelsior College developed a rubric to help evaluate publisher resources, using a combination of three sources:

Although the rubric uses a point system, the raw number of points does not actually mean anything.  Instead, the raw score is meant to be used as a comparative tool when evaluating two or more publisher resources.  Check out the full rubric here.

Have you had any experience with open educational resources or living textbooks?  What about publisher materials?  Let me know your experience with them in the comments!

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