Open Access II: Consider a Move to Open Course Content

By Justin Daras

As a faculty member, it is likely that the cost of textbooks is on your mind when planning your next class. However, the prices students are paying may be higher than you think—leading to academic disengagement and potentially poor learning outcomes.

Inside Higher Ed reported on a 2014 poll that found that 65% of students have forgone purchasing a textbook due to price, and 94% of them “were concerned that their grade would suffer because of it.”[1]

Another 48 percent of students said the cost of textbooks affected how many and which classes they took each semester. At the same time, 82 percent of students said free online access to a textbook (with the option of buying a hard copy) would help them do “significantly better” in a course.[2]

One estimate puts the increase in textbook prices between the years 1978–2014 at 945%, outpacing both the Consumer Price Index (262%), and the cost of medical care (604%) during the same period.[3] In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an estimate that students “typically [spend] between $600 to $1,200 a year” on textbooks.[4]  The College Board’s Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets for 2015-2016 puts the total cost of books and supplies for students in public colleges at $1,298 for the entire academic year,[5] suggesting that textbook prices are not going down any time soon.

At this point, you might be asking yourself “What can I do?” At the individual level, faculty have few levers to pull with publishers. You cannot prevent them from revising even the most basic texts every year or two; from including single-use electronic content that hinders the reusability of texts; or from simply raising prices yearly at a rate that students are forced to fold into their student loans, and end up paying off over 10 years. The best signal faculty can send to textbook publishers is to stop expecting students to buy textbooks in the first place.

Two major efforts are working to bypass the financial barriers posed by the reliance on commercial textbooks for course content. First, there is the open textbook movement, now sometimes referred to as Open Textbooks 2.0. Open textbooks once had a reputation of being the projects of individual authors, tailored to specific institutions, and even classes—making appropriation time-consuming for faculty hoping for an overlap between the books and their own syllabi.

The contemporary model of open textbooks is collaborative, peer reviewed, and designed to directly substitute for the commercial textbooks traditionally assigned by instructors. Both OpenStax College and The Open Textbook Library are sources of the open textbooks many faculty are using in their classes today. There is significant academic leadership and funding behind these efforts. For example, OpenStax is a product of Rice University, and is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Open Textbook library is a network of universities and libraries that includes the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Temple University.

Second, faculty should be aware of Open Educational Resources (OER), which are freely available digital course content. Open educational resources include OpenStax CNX (Rice University), OER Commons, and Merlot (peer-reviewed). These OER collections include individual webpages, learning exercises, interactive mini-sessions and simulations, and even full university courses from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. All are free to use for students and teachers.

As the curator of the university’s physical and digital collections, the Henry Whittemore Library is uniquely suited to helping faculty and departments:

  • Search for and evaluate open textbooks and OER
  • Examine the library’s digital and print collections and integrate them into Blackboard and reserves/e-reserves collections
  • Work with faculty who want to develop their own open textbooks

Commercial textbooks will likely always exist, and publishers can bring to bear a lot of resources to develop content suitable for the university classroom. But, at what price? Open educational content, written by faculty, and peer-reviewed by faculty, puts subject material into your hands to use as you see fit—and into students’ hands without regard to their ability to pay. Open educational content may not be a fit for the course you are designing today, but it can be next semester.

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/28/textbook-prices-still-crippling-students-report-says

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.aei.org/publication/the-new-era-of-the-400-college-textbook-which-is-part-of-the-unsustainable-higher-education-bubble/ Cited in: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/04/era-400-college-textbook-affordability-initiatives-take-utilitarian-approach

[4] http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-tough-lesson-for-college-textbook-publishers-1409182139

[5] http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2015-16

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Good luck on your finals and papers!

The library wishes you the best and if you need our assistance please do not hesitate to ask what we can do to help you succeed.

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Open Access

By Justin Daras, Reference Librarian

Imagine if every student could write a paper on the topic of their choice, and every faculty member could develop new courses and conduct research, never having to worry if the library had full-text access to articles on any topic? What if traditionally marginalized fields like LGBTQ, Women’s, and Latino & Latina Studies—to name a few examples—could expand the scope of their scholarship by reaching broader audiences, increasing their citation impacts, and eliminating the costs of providing access to their subject-specific journals?

This is not a far-fetched fantasy about making the cost of scholarly journals affordable. It is about engaging with a movement called Open Access (OA) that could make these scenarios real by making journal articles free to access. Walt Crawford, in his report “Open Access: What You Need to Know” (2011), defines OA as literature that is “available online to be read for free by anyone, anytime, anywhere—as long as they have Internet access.” This does not mean authors are not compensated for their work or copyrights are violated. Open Access means that scholars remove financial barriers for readers by publishing in journals that make articles free for anyone to access. Open Access allows the same peer-reviewed process employed by many pay-to-access journals—so the academic record can continue, as rigorous as it is now, but for everyone to read.

Traditionally, authors, such as Framingham State’s professors, conduct research that they may or may not be paid to do (funded vs. unfunded research). Authors then write scholarly articles examining their work, and submit them to journals that conduct peer-review. The peer-review is also typically done by other scholars for free. The journals then process, promote, and publish the articles, and then libraries pay to access the journals. The cost of subscribing to these journals is the reason why when you search our library’s databases, you cannot get full-text access to every article. We simply cannot afford to pay for everything. No one does, not even Harvard or MIT. And this is why OA is such an important idea.

There are barriers to transitioning to OA that students should know about. First, academic inertia puts pressure on scholars to publish in certain high impact non-OA journals in order to qualify for tenure—publish or perish. Second, there is sometimes a perception that because OA journals are free, they may be less desirable than pay-to-access journals—a paradox of value. Third, as OA is a relatively new movement, there may not be a journal specific enough for a given subject area—a catch-22.

We encourage students to educate themselves on OA, and how it affects their ability to study and make the university a diverse and academically challenging place to be. The library publishes a research guide on Open Access that covers many resources. The Right to Research Coalition website also includes information for students, student government, and professors. We urge Framingham State students, faculty, and administration to make Open Access a priority on campus.

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Library Scavenger Hunt Winner

Library Scavenger Hunt Winner

Congratulations, Jennifer Noel, the winner of a Kindle for her participation in the scavenger hunt!

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Good luck on your exams and papers!

Please enjoy the quiet of the library to study for your exams. If you have papers due, do not hesitate to ask the Reference Librarians for you help.

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Library Spotlight: Justin Daras

Justin Daras

Justin Daras is a Reference Librarian here at the Henry Whittemore Library.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job?
My work here is to help people use the library and its resources. Some students need help searching for books and articles, and another part of my job is to help students think about their assignments, to figure out what they’re looking for and why. Inherent in academic research is the process of uncovering initial beliefs, searching and encountering the literature, and developing something original to say about all of that. It involves change, and recognizing assumptions. It’s hard, and that’s where students struggle. But it’s why you go to college, and how you grow as a person. We’ve all been there!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I take care of my young daughter full time during the days, and work evenings—so I can relate to many of the students I work with at night. Putting your education first—above food and sleep, and a million other responsibilities—is a hard thing to do, and requires a lot of sacrifice. I admire the dedication I see in FSU students.
My priorities in life are to be a good father, partner, and librarian. I received my M.S. from Simmons College and attended Temple University for a B.A. in Philosophy. The organization of ideas has always interested me, as well as logic and ethics.
How does the library contribute to the campus community?
Libraries promote freedom, and we’re here to help all members of the FSU community exercise their minds and achieve their academic goals. Being a librarian is to be in service to society. Especially if you turn on the TV and don’t see people who look like you, if your interests aren’t reflected in popular opinion, and if your values have been marginalized by close minded people. The library is a place of free speech and free association. I’m proud of the work being done here at FSU to create an inclusive community. The library isn’t just a place for books; we’re here to support people discovering themselves and their voices. Diversity, inclusiveness, service, and free speech are central tenets of librarianship, and I think people don’t always think of us that way. Libraries are places to be.
Is there anything most people don’t know about you?
My somewhat neglected love of the ancient near east. Going to the UPenn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and seeing some of the earliest examples of writing was life changing for me. People had been using language for a long time, but at some point it started to be written down in a way that lasted long enough for us later humans to read it. How did people feel back then, and why did they feel the ways they did? To have a personal reaction to a poem written down roughly 3,000 years ago is a humbling way of feeling connected to the deep history of being human.

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Latino Americans: 500 Years of History – Events Sponsored by the Library

Latino-Americans_Events-Poster_REVISED9415_2 copy//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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