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Estimated Savings from OAT Program Tops $2.3 Million in Third Year

January 7, 2019
Ines Rauschenbach

OAT award recipient Ines Rauschenbach plans to replace the generic lab experiments that would be included in a traditionally published manual with inquiry-based lessons delivered to students for free via iPads.

Samantha Heintzelman

OAT award recipient Samantha Heitzelman will design a free, customized social psychology textbook for her students using open educational resources.

Rutgers University Libraries continue to combat the financial strain of rising textbook costs, with the 2018 Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) Program slated to save an estimated $209,824 for 1,801 students across the university.

The OAT Program awards Rutgers faculty who transition from traditional, high cost textbooks to alternatives that are available at little to no cost to students. These can include library-licensed resources such as electronic books and articles or open educational resources (OER), online learning materials that can be accessed and repurposed for free. Since its inception in 2016 at the behest of Rutgers president Robert Barchi, the OAT Program has generated an estimated $2.3 million in savings for over 13,000 students at Rutgers.

Undergraduate students across the country spend about $1,200 each year on textbooks, according to data from The College Board. This creates added pressure on students who sometimes choose to forgo a textbook due to cost. In fact, a 2014 study by Student PIRGS [https://studentpirgs.org/sites/student/files/reports/NATIONAL%20Fixing%20Broken%20Textbooks%20Report1.pdf] found that 65% of students have skipped buying a textbook because of its price, despite concerns that doing so would impact their final grade. Open educational resources, on the other hand, not only reduce the financial burden of course materials on students, but have also been linked to better outcomes. For instance, a study from the University of Georgia published last year found that using open educational resources improves end-of-course grades for all students, especially those in populations historically underserved by higher education, like lower income and nontraditional students.

“Open educational resources address a number of challenges currently facing higher education, including affordability and retention,” said Krisellen Maloney, vice president for information services and university librarian. “With the OAT Program, our goal is to promote the use of OER at Rutgers and remove financial barriers so that students can focus on what truly matters—their academic success.”

Rutgers faculty use OAT Program awards to provide more individualized learning experiences for their students. For instance, award recipient Ines Rauschenbach, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, plans to replace the generic lab experiments that would be included in a traditionally published lab manual for her introduction to microbiology course with inquiry-based lessons that she designs herself and delivers to students for free via iPads.

“Inquiry-based lessons are more effective because the students are working hands-on and learning how to critically think,” noted Rauschenbach. “Between buying a book for the course, buying a lab manual, buying goggles, buying a lab coat—it’s a lot of money, it adds up. If we can provide these resources not only that we have prepared, but that are free, it adds value to the course and shows that we care.”

Samantha Heintzelman, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the School of Arts and Sciences–Newark, likewise, will use her OAT Program award to design a customized social psychology textbook using content from BC Open Textbooks as well as the Noba Project. This platform provides a repository of electronic textbooks and other instruction tools, like presentations and question banks, which have been developed by leading scholars under an open license so that instructors at other institutions can adapt the material for use in their own courses.

“As a first-year professor developing a new-to-me course, I was looking for innovative ways to support student learning,” said Heintzelman. “Using open source materials gives me the autonomy to customize course content for my students rather than being restricted to the full content of a traditional textbook.”

The Libraries plan to open applications for the 2019 OAT Program awards this spring.