Books that Won’t Break the Bank

Picture a world in which the price of hardcover college textbooks was in the tens instead of the hundreds. Now imagine if the textbooks required for general education courses were free.

While many might see the above situation as a distant and unattainable ideal, Clay Gediman, a technology librarian at Pierce, is working to implement a system that would make it possible to freely use teaching and learning materials known as Open Educational Resources.

“I know textbooks are pretty expensive here, so if there’s an alternative source, a way to make it a little cheaper for students, I thought that would be a great idea,” Gediman said. “It’s not just for students either; it helps the faculty out too.”

Open Educational Resources are resources that have been authored or created by an individual or an organization that chooses to retain few, if any, ownership rights. This can be virtually any material that is used for educational purchases, including textbooks, course readings, quizzes, and streaming videos.

In some cases, this means that students and teachers alike would be able to download the resource and share it with colleagues and classmates. In other cases, the resource could be downloaded, edited, and reposted as a remixed work.

Gediman said he realized that there are many students that simply can’t afford textbooks. He recalled his time as a college student when he would have to buy books that were more expensive than the actual class he was getting them for.

“I remember spending maybe $100 for my classes, for registering, but then my textbooks were between $200 and $300, and that’s a little frustrating,” Gediman said.

Gediman has been working closely with the bookstore for the past year to see how the implementation of this new system can potentially help increase the profit Pierce makes by selling textbooks. Pierce’s bookstore manager Candy Van and Pierce book buyer Juan Catalan attended a three-day event at UC Davis last month called the Textbook Affordability Conference, which discussed the development of more Open Educational Resources.

According to Gediman, although the practical use of Open Educational Resources started roughly in 2007, the program really took off in the last few years because the technology and creation software improved to enable easier usage of the online resources. Catalan said that various educators at the TAC event he attended explained that the use is very dependent on the course and who is teaching it.

“Professors have been implementing [Open Educational Resources] based on their own research and material required for their class,” Catalan said. “For instance, there was a computers professor in Sacramento that realized the Adobe products he used for his computer classes were too expensive, so he found other OER software for students to use.”

Gediman said that the program is slowly generating more and more feedback as a growing number of faculty members are recognizing that their students simply aren’t buying the textbooks they’re requiring. Even if the content of the book works really well for the instructor’s course, it’s often too expensive.
“[Professors] can tell when a student doesn’t buy the textbook,” Gediman said. “A faculty’s motivation for creating [an OER] would be maybe to create something that they know their students can afford and have access to and, since most of the stuff is digital, it makes the content really flexible, so the student can access it anytime, anywhere.”

Currently, about seven Pierce faculty members have shown serious interest in implementing the program. The range of instructors includes representatives from the physical science, art, child development, communication, and physics departments. Gediman stressed that, while OER won’t work for every class, it will work for some and he would be happy if Pierce could hit a 50 percent usage rate.

Shant Varozian, a senior cashier at Pierce’s bookstore, said as a former student who had to pay his fair share of book fees, the OER program is one he can get behind.

“I’m not too familiar with the program, but I know that the book industry is starting to head in this direction anyway and it’s going to happen whether we like it or not,” Varozian said. “It’s going to go from hard books to either digital or open source material, so I’m okay with it.”

Varozian added that there is a reason why textbooks are so expensive. He said that the bookstore has a chart in the front office that shows where every dollar goes, but that he knows it would be hard to explain just how many people are involved and need to be paid to every single student that comes in and asks why they have to spend so much. Varozian believes open sources and digital versions are a good alternative to the current situation.

“It’s hard to say how [OER will affect the bookstore] but, at the end of the day, what’s the point of having books on the shelf that nobody’s going to buy?” Varozian asked. “We would rather be servicing the students with something rather than nothing and, if students aren’t going to be coming to shop with us anymore, we’ve got to figure out what the next step is.”

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