Why I Went Open & Why I’ll Never Go Back

View Don’s 12-minute video above to learn more about how he uses OpenStax.

Reflections on My Student Days

I remember being a student. I am a first-generation student that put myself through school. I bounced in and out of school for many years, because, for me, working full-time and going to school ended up being infeasible for many years. This was before online classes existed. I would get a class here, and another there, and my progress was painfully slow. I remember the journey well and I also remember the astronomically high costs of textbooks. Often, my textbooks would be double or even triple my tuition.

One year, I remember that I sold my entire music CD collection on eBay just to buy my Biology and Chemistry textbooks. It was a sizeable music collection. I remember the assembly line I made in my room with envelopes and tape. I had 100’s of CDs.

When I approached 30, I was able to dive fully into school. I worked when I could, and I rented rooms from people to keep expenses as low as possible. I relied on financial assistance (loans) all the way through grad school.

Becoming a Teacher

When I became a teacher in 2008, I vowed to keep costs as low as possible for my students. I always used previous edition textbooks, and I remember the conversations with the bookstore managers about the difficulty of obtaining previous editions. I also remember checking Amazon, eBay, Half.com, and Barnes and Noble to be sure there would be plenty of copies available for my students and that the price was below 40 bucks (preferably closer to 20). So when fully developed, high quality “open” textbooks became available, some with ancillary materials, I jumped all in.

Getting Started with Zero Cost Textbooks

I started using my first zero cost textbook one year ago. I am here to tell you that I would never go back to a paid textbook. Six of my seven courses this semester are zero cost, OER (Open Educational Resources), and I am constantly hearing from students about how much they appreciate it and that it makes a difference to them. Not only are the materials available at no cost, but they are also of high quality, and are available on a multitude of platforms. They can be flexible in a way that traditional products cannot. Unlike when I used a premium textbook, using an OER textbook allows my students to:

  • Choose between using n online or offline copy
  • Choose from a variety of formats (pdf, epub, HTML, etc.)
  • Search the text within the materials
  • Access the textbook from a variety of devices

Unexpected Outcomes

I still use a single textbook as the “backbone” of my course and to ensure that we all have a common reference. Having said that, because I am using open / zero cost textbooks, I am also able to include more than one textbook. In my OER courses, I have 3 different zero cost textbooks available to students. I am amazed at the pedagogical power, flexibility that having more than one explanation on a topic provides for students. I get weekly feedback from my students praising the ability to read another textbook’s treatment of a topic. Some students prefer one textbook over another and use it exclusively. While others simply use two textbooks to enhance their understanding.

Of course, there are significant costs in time and energy to the instructor in the adoption of a new textbook. But the effort is more than worth it. Students have their books on day one, there are no textbooks to order at the bookstore, there is no need to maintain a copy at the library, and the material is available for anyone at no additional cost to the student. Not only is it easier to use, but you will also be doing your students a great service by removing this barrier to entry and having access to the textbook (and more) on the first day of class.

Are you Ready to Go Open?

For my Economics classes, I use OpenStax supplemented with other open economics textbooks that I have found at The Open Textbook Library. Here are some of the many sources for OER textbooks that I hope you will browse:

Posted in A10: Individualized Learning, equity, Online Teaching.

Don teaches Economics at Cabrillo College and Modesto Junior College.

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