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Open and Affordable Textbooks Project Will Save Almost $1.6 Million in First Year

February 23, 2017
Petros Levounis class

Petros Levounis, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, plans to use his grant from Rutgers’ Open and Affordable Textbook Project to publish an affordable textbook for medical students written by medical

Students at Rutgers University received welcome news this spring. More than 32 classes are switching over to low cost or no-cost textbook solutions as part of the Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) Project, with a projected savings of $1,597,444.00 over the next year.

In 2016, President Barchi asked the Libraries to pilot the OAT Project to address soaring textbook costs and to introduce more affordable materials into the classroom. The original plan was to provide 12 grants to faculty to incorporate low-cost course materials into their classes. Thanks to higher than expected faculty interest and the quality of their proposals, the Libraries quickly expanded the pilot program to 32 grants, impacting courses across the university in fields ranging from psychiatry, sociology, and public affairs to English, business, and physics. (For a complete list of grant recipients, please click here.)

One such course is the third year Psychiatry Clerkship at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Petros Levounis, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at New Jersey Medical School, received a grant to work with students to develop new course materials based on their real world experiences with psychiatric patients.

“Instead of $150.00 worth of textbooks, we can reduce the cost to under $5.00 and make it more interactive,” says Levounis. “This process benefits both the students who are researching the case studies and the students who will use the textbook in the future. Our students have their finger on the pulse of what is needed to be successful in taking certification and course exams and will share their insights in the textbook.”

At Rutgers-New Brunswick, associate professor Neil Sheflin will use his grant to further refine, expand, and extend his use of open and affordable course materials for his courses, including Intro to Macroeconomics where students currently use a free textbook from OpenStax, a nonprofit based at Rice University that is partially funded by the Gates Foundation and other foundation grants.

Sheflin supplements the text with online readings that address current issues and are drawn from the public, governmental, and private sources, including the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. Student response has been positive so far.

“Students have been happy with the content, convenience and cost,” says Sheflin. All students can easily obtain the textbook and have access to it and other materials wherever they might be. And of course, lost textbooks are not possible. He hopes more teachers will follow suit, even though he acknowledges it can create extra work for instructors.

“Finding current, relevant, and suitable open and accessible material is a lot of work, but that is an important role of the instructor and leads to a much more focused course,” he explains. “Plus the students also seem to appreciate the personal role I have in delivering this information to them.”

Rutgers-Newark psychology faculty member Matthew Giobbi is assembling a textbook from open source materials for his course History and Modern Viewpoints in Psychology. The textbook that was previously used for this course cost more than $300.00, but Giobbi is now using free materials drawn from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, original writings by thinkers, and video clips like “The School of Life” by Alain De Botton.

The emphasis on primary sources has changed the student experience in unanticipated ways, says Giobbi.

“In a textbook, you get quotes from the thinker that’s being discussed, but when you’re actually reading the book, it’s like you’re spending time with the thinker,” Giobbi explains. “Students are used to material that is neatly abstracted and presented in a textbook. Now they are engaging with longer academic articles and they have to decide what they can take from this material, what is most relevant to their interest.”

Students have also appreciated the introduction of streaming media into the course in the form of films, video clips, and even audio books. “Don’t privilege the written text,” warns Giobbi. “There are great resources that can be used for learning and teaching. Students can download stuff to their phone and listen on the subway, watch a video in their living room, and read primary materials. These things are all equally effective at getting info across.”

For more information about the OAT Project, please visit our website: libraries.rutgers.edu/open-textbooks.

Read more in this Rutgers Today story.