This semester two San José City College instructors, Veronica Harris and Lorraine Levy, ventured into some new territory. Instead of using traditional, printed, for-purchase textbooks in their classrooms, they opted for electronic open-education resources (OER). Harris, who teaches guidance courses and is a counselor for Puente and Athletics, is using an Open UMN textbook called College Success, and Levy, who teaches psychology courses, is using an OpenStax textbook called Psychology. Neither faculty member had used an OER textbook in her teaching before nor any textbook in an electronic format. Thus far, both instructors are well satisfied and find the students’ impressions to be favorable.
According to Harris, the discovery of College Success was a twofer: “I teach a College Study Techniques guidance class in the fall semester and a Career and Life Planning guidance class in the spring. The main reason I am using the OER textbook is because my students had to purchase two textbooks for each of these courses. [The textbook] covers entering college and study techniques that I teach in the fall guidance course. It also covers career and life planning, so I can use this same textbook in the spring. This means my students do not have to purchase a book for either semester.” In each of Harris’s courses, the approximate cost of the textbook was $100.
Costs were a bit steeper for students in Levy’s section of Introduction to Psychology. The textbook she used prior to adopting an OER was $290. When asked about the quality of the OER textbook, Levy responded “I’m happy with the quality. It’s succinct. It has all the main points I cover in my normal lectures. It’s compact enough that I am free to elaborate with my own materials, including extension or enrichment activities.” She is also happy with the textbook’s CC BY licensing, which means that she’s free to add to and edit textbook chapters and sections. “I’m getting my PhD in Jungian psychology, and he’s not fully represented. [This] gives me the opportunity to add my own content.”
Resoundingly, students are in favor of OER textbooks because they are free, but there are other benefits, as well. For example, OER puts an end to availability gaps, so a late book order or bookstore hiccup doesn’t derail any ambitious plans for the first few weeks of class. OER textbooks are helpful to students and instructors alike who take and teach newly added course sections or “late start” courses. “As I was a last-minute hire,” says Levy, who works as an adjunct, “I was relieved the [text]book was already chosen since I was jumping into the class the weekend before the class started.” Harris notes that students don’t miss hauling physical textbooks to class. They like that their books are always already online or readily available on their smartphones or tablets or laptops. Well aware that some students are apprehensive about computers, Harris schedules her classes in a lab, so she can assist with the technologies and be certain that students have access to the OER textbook during class.
When asked if students had any technical problems with their OER textbook, both instructors responded in the “so far, so good” vein. “I’m not aware of any technical problems. Everyone,” Levy observed, “was able to download the textbook, and everyone has a way to read the electronic text. Students bring their electronic devices each week to class.” Levy, who teaches at the Milpitas Extension, makes use of overhead projection devices when she wants to focus on or discuss a passage or section of text. “Instead of referring to page numbers, I refer to chapter titles and section numbers.” Levy also finds that an electronic textbook supports her teaching style. Interspersed with lectures, her students work on “assignments in Canvas,” making it possible for them to “work between their online textbooks and their online assignments.”
The active learning taking place in Harris and Levy’s classrooms isn’t unique, but it does demonstrate ways in which textbooks in electronic formats might be better integrated into instruction, whether or not students are huddled together in real-time, working collaboratively in a classroom or lab or working independently and asynchronously on a computer at home or in an office break-room. Harris is an admitted fan of electronic search, which makes it possible to leverage texts in a variety of ways. “I like using the search feature to look up a passage in the book,” Harris explains. “With a printed book you have to flip through pages to find what you are look for.”
To be sure, electronic texts make research faster. Key words or phrases can be located in seconds, then cut and pasted into student notes, study guides, or assignments. Electronic texts can foster readings that are both broad and in-depth. Because most online texts are by their very nature intratextual, students who read on a Kindle or iPad can look up the definitions of words or access endnotes on the fly. These platforms also allow for hypertextual connections with other online texts as well as networked note-taking, so students can share the equivalent of their highlighted passages and margin notes with other readers.
Voice activation inquiry systems are growing increasingly more common, as well, making reading and note-taking even more interactive. Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are embedded into a wide range of devices these days and can bring information forward as quickly as a student might say, “Alexa, Wikipedia, Collective Unconscious.” These same systems provide text-reading capabilities as well, so learners have another way to access information – through the ears instead of the eyes.
OER textbooks have come a long way in just a few short years, and seem poised to follow in the footsteps of the open-source software movement – a movement in which free applications are improved upon through common user contributions then re-released to the public. While most OER textbooks are fairly basic, some feature useful ancillary materials. According to Levy, Psychology includes “video links embedded in the chapters…and useful review sheets after each section.” Psychology, like so many OpenStax textbooks, also features instructor and student resources, including syllabi, test banks and “getting started” guides.
The OER Initiative at San José City College is also keen to enhance the OER experience. Located in the Division of Library, Learning Resources & Distance Education, the Initiative provides a variety of resources to help faculty locate, adopt, and utilize quality resources. Librarians are available to assist with OER textbook alternative searches and to explain copyright and licensing. The Initiative also provides students support by through OER handouts and tutorials and by making print copies of OER textbooks available for in-house use in the Library, the Learning Resource Center, and at the Milpitas Extension. For more information, visit: http://www.sjcc.edu/library/Pages/oer.aspx.
Open Education Week
March 27-31, 2017 is Open Education Week, a celebration of the global Open Education Movement. To find out more about what’s happening, visit: https://www.openeducationweek.org/.