Textbooks Costs Inspire New Alternatives for Students

Hector Casanova /MCT

A group of dedicated faculty members are working to help Santa Ana College students afford the materials they need to succeed in their classes from day one by giving students access to Open Educational Resources (OER), a low-cost alternative to textbooks.

OER include textbooks, tests, worksheets and other learning materials that may be used by faculty in designing effective courses for their students, at no cost. Faculty using OER materials are also free to use them repeatedly, alter their content or organization and to share them with students or other faculty.

For students who cannot afford textbooks and attempt to get through classes without the appropriate materials, as well as for those who have to wait for their financial aid to process, OER presents a valuable alternative.

Due to the shareable and reusable nature of OER, faculty are able to offer courses that do not require a textbook. Although certain courses charge a $5 to $20 fee (which pays for a site to host the free materials), the resources for most classes using OER are completely free.

A student taking Art 100, Biology 109, Business 100 and Communication Studies 102 as standard classes could pay around $220 to get all of the textbooks needed from the SAC bookstore, even if the books were rented or used. A student taking the same courses, using OER, would only have to pay about $35.

Students who are interested in taking OER courses are now able to search for them in Webadvisor by selecting “Open Education Resource” in the Section Type menu when they register.

In addition to being more affordable OER classes are beneficial to students in other ways. For example, faculty’s ability to adapt the materials to their courses’ specific Student Learning Outcomes helps students by providing more focused and relevant materials.

Additionally, OER are available to students before and on the first day of classes. “They make courses more equitable for all students. As faculty, I can feel good that all my students have all the materials they need on day one,” Distance Education Coordinator and Business Professor Cherylee Kushida said.

Since 2011, SAC faculty have been collecting and revising OER materials for the college’s students. This semester, SAC offered 39 courses (94 sections) using OER instead of traditional textbooks.

Natalie Caudill / MCT

Next fall, SAC will offer two OER degree pathways, which will allow students to receive their Business Administration AS-T or their Liberal Arts AA without taking a class that requires a textbook.

The development of the OER degree pathways was funded by the Achieving the Dream Open Educational Resources Degree Pathway grant SAC received last year. SAC was one of only 38 community colleges nationwide to receive the grant. SAC, with the help of the school’s OER faculty work group, has promoted OER in many other ways as well.

“We’re very fortunate that our administrators have seen the importance of OER,” Kushida said.

The school designated librarian Annie Knight to be SAC’s OER Librarian and to assist faculty and students in finding the appropriate OER materials for their courses.

In March, SAC faculty participated in Open Education Week by wearing shirts bearing the words “Ask Me About OER” and by communicating with students about the program’s importance.

SAC also hosted an Open Educational Resources Summit last October. The summit’s attendees represented 15 Southern California colleges and universities. Panels of SAC faculty and SAC students spoke to the audience, and Dr. David Wiley, a notable OER promoter, gave the keynote speech.

“My involvement with the Open Educational Resources Summit … was one of the most rewarding ways I’ve been involved with promoting OERs for the SAC community and beyond,” Knight said.

Although the use of OER presents a time-consuming challenge for faculty who seek out and revise the course materials, interest in OER continues to grow.

Kushida believes that OER may one day take the place of textbooks as the standard in college classrooms.

“Music 101 is an excellent example. Elliott Jones, music faculty, created and honed OER materials for the course and it was adopted by all faculty teaching MUS101,” Kushida said. “Hopefully students speak up with their enrollment. The more popular these courses are, the more offerings we will see.”

Natalie James