OSU open textbook initiative aims to reduce student costs, enhance learning

Oregon State University is helping its faculty members develop textbooks in their fields that will be freely accessible online to any student in the world.

The open textbook initiative is a collaboration between OSU Libraries, OSU Press and OSU Extended Campus that provides financial, technical and editorial support for faculty members to create “open” texts that aim to reduce costs for students and further position Oregon State as a leader in research and teaching.

“I can’t remember a single year where I haven’t had a student advocacy group come to me and say we need to do something about the cost of textbooks,” said Faye Chadwell, the director of OSU Press and the Donald and Delpha Campbell University Librarian. “That’s really the driving factor here.”

“We need to make higher education affordable to Oregon State students and students in general because we can provide these resources beyond OSU,” she added.

Four winning proposals from OSU faculty spanning a variety of academic disciplines were chosen for publication in the initiative’s first phase:

  • Kevin Ahern and Indira Rajagopal, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics;
  • Gita Cherian, Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences;
  • Eric Hansen, Department of Wood Science and Engineering;
  • John Lambrinos, Department of Horticulture.

Publication of the four books will take place in 2014-15; they will be available in four interactive formats – HTML, PDF, iBooks and ePub – as well as in a print-on-demand edition.

In addition to relieving students of ever-increasing costs, these works will also feature interactive content that enhances learning through video, audio and other multimedia. The textbooks will be incorporated into OSU curriculum and include Creative Commons licenses to facilitate their use at other universities at no cost.

Extended Campus is involved through its new unit, Open Educational Resources and Emerging Technologies (OER), which works with OSU faculty to create open learning modules that can improve learning outcomes by presenting materials in ways that haven’t been possible in the past.

“Faculty know which concepts students generally have a hard time understanding based on how they are presented in the textbooks,” OER director Dianna Fisher said. “We can work with faculty to illustrate these concepts in several ways – through animations, video, text – any way that makes it easier for students to understand and allows them to interact with the text in various ways.”

An Oregon State course in geosciences is using the university’s first open textbook this quarter: “Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest,” by Robert S. Yeats, a professor emeritus in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The transformation of this title from print to online versions is the initial product of the OSU Libraries, OSU Press, and OSU Extended Campus partnership.

Originally published by OSU Press in 1998 and used widely in college courses throughout the Northwest, the book has been updated to feature video clips of earthquakes where still photos once resided. An animation depicting the movement of tectonic plates replaced the book’s previous line drawings. Plans are under way for Yeats to make additional updates and revisions in the months ahead.

“I’m not sure any university presses are creating open textbooks in partnership with their online learning unit the way OSU is,” Chadwell said. “It really sets the stage for the ongoing transformation of how people teach and learn.

“This is a project that will showcase what OSU is capable of doing, and it fulfills our land grant mission.”

View OSU’s prototype open textbook at http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/oer/Earthquake.pdf. Download it in Adobe Reader to experience full interactivity.

~ Tyler Hansen and Shan Sutton

 

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