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Lighten The Burden


By Sara Ring on Thursday, May 19, 2016

Close up of book pages

A heavy burden for many students today is the ever-increasing cost of textbooks. U.S. News & World Reports noted that the cost of college textbooks has increased by 82% over the past 10 years, growing at three times the rate of inflation. Now the average cost of textbooks for one year is $1,200, an expense which can cause some students to choose not to take a course, or not buy the textbook for the course. This choice often hurts the students' performance and limits learning opportunities.

Open Textbook Resources

This burden has stimulated a new national movement among some universities – open textbook resources. This means textbook content is made available at no cost to the students. The University of Northwestern – St. Paul has been on the cutting edge of this major change in transforming textbook access. UNW was one of the founding members of the Open Textbook Network which formed in 2014. UNW was also one of the first eight schools (and the only private school in MN) to benefit from the Hewlett Foundation's grant awarded to the University of Minnesota's Center for Open Education. As a result of this grant, Northwestern was able to offer two Open Textbook presentations and workshops, which resulted in five UNW faculty adopting open textbooks.

Since then, the move to open textbooks at UNW has continued to grow each semester. Currently, UNW is offering 20 courses with free textbooks available. We are adopting open textbooks across all venues: in our traditional undergraduate, our adult undergraduate and graduate programs, and our PSEO and Early College programs.

Because these open books are creative commons licensed, faculty members can adapt the content. It's a great opportunity for UNW instructors to integrate the biblical worldview right into the textbook our students use. I was in a meeting yesterday to switch another course to an open, and we discussed pulling the best chapters from 2-3 textbooks, plus adding in links to videos and articles, to give our students the best possible resource to use.

New “Z Degree” Launch this Fall

This fall, UNW will lead the way with our new online version of the adult bachelor's degree in Business Management will use only open textbooks. We will become one of just a handful of colleges nationwide, and will be the first Christian university (to our knowledge) offering a zero-cost textbook degree program, or a “Z degree.” Students can download these textbooks for free to their phone, e-reader, computer or other mobile device. If they prefer, students may have the textbook printed and bound for a nominal fee.

I just received a 450-page open textbook on marketing that was printed, bound, and delivered to me for about $25. In comparison, the marketing textbook I taught with last semester sells online for $152. The new textbook is written with the same level of quality, plus the online text version features numerous online links within the chapters to provide real-time illustrations and examples. As I'm reading this text online, it's much easier to access the related links and get further information.

We really see this as a great opportunity to help our students be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them. If they spend less or no money on textbooks, that is one less worry for them about school, and they can use those financial resources in other ways.

Doing Good for the Family of Faith

The students who have been involved so far in open textbook courses have given positive feedback and appreciate the free books. One classroom burst into spontaneous applause when their professor told them the textbook would be free!

Through open texts, we are reducing student debt and simultaneously improving our instructional materials. We want to lighten the burden for the students--not because it's easy, but because it's the right thing to do.

"So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith." – Galatians 6:10

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