Faculty members develop free alternative textbooks to save students money
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Through an alternative textbook initiative, Kansas State University faculty members are helping students save an estimated $423,000 a year in textbook costs.
The Open Alternative Textbook Initiative — led by Brian Lindshield, associate professor of human nutrition; Andy Bennett, professor and head of the mathematics department; and Beth Turtle, associate professor with K-State Libraries — involves more than 25 faculty members from 15 departments.
The faculty members' disciplines are diverse but their focus is simple: Save students money by creating learning materials and textbooks that are free of charge.
"Alternative textbooks give us the chance to not merely save the students money — and that is very important — but also to give them a better 21st century learning environment," Bennett said. "The more ways you can provide for students to learn, the more students will be successful."
The initiative provides faculty members with stipends for software, equipment or compensation for their time as they develop alternative course textbooks — such as electronic books, interactive multimedia and videos. The stipends come from student-centered tuition enhancement funds and the K-State Libraries.
The initiative began during the 2013-2014 academic year. During its first year, the initiative provided stipends totaling $60,000 to help faculty members replace textbooks in 12 courses that enrolled an estimated 4,000 students at the university's Manhattan, Salina and Global campuses.
"The faculty we have encountered have wanted to do something like this for a long time and there were some barriers in the way," Turtle said. "One of those barriers was the time and the money to create an alternative textbook. The stipends provide support to make the change."
The initiative has supported faculty across disciplines, including math, biology, chemistry, public relations, education, psychology and engineering. The faculty members are using the textbook replacements for a variety of courses, including larger general education courses and discipline-specific upper-level courses.
Some faculty members are reworking open textbooks to fit their classes, while other faculty members are developing their own open textbooks, online books or iBooks. Other faculty members are procuring and organizing materials for students. Algebra professors are replacing textbooks with sets of math problems and tutorial videos.
Several biology professors reworked the textbook for the Principles of Biology course, which is one of the university's largest general education courses. Rather than spending $200 on a new textbook, the more than 1,600 students enrolled in the course are using a free alternative textbook that can be viewed online or as a PDF version.
"Besides just financial help, this initiative also provides a sense of community among faculty members," Lindshield said. "They can hear the innovative ideas that other people are doing and they can discuss how to adapt different resources to their classes."
Lindshield and Bennett have both created alternative textbooks for use in their classes.
Several years ago, Lindshield developed a free textbook replacement called a flexbook, which is an open educational resource that contains text, videos, animations, links and news articles. Students in Lindshield's human nutrition courses use the flexbook and can access it in several ways: through Google Drive, a Web link, a PDF posted on the learning management system or a print copy that students can either get from a copy center or print themselves.
Bennett has replaced the textbook for his differential equations courses with an interactive textbook. In additional to reading materials, Bennett has created an example generator that will algorithmically generate as many mathematic examples as students want to help them understand new concepts. Bennett provides his textbook free-of-charge to students, which saves them the average $200 for a traditional math course textbook.