University of Texas at Arlington

UTA Libraries funds five educators to lower textbook costs

Young adults work collaboratively on computers
Funding instructors to lower students' textbook costs

The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries is pleased to announce five new recipients of the UTA CARES Grant Program. The Libraries offers these grants annually to encourage UTA educators to replace textbooks with open educational resources (OER) to decrease costs for their students.

OER are free teaching and learning materials that are licensed to allow for revision and reuse. OER can be fully self-contained textbooks, videos, quizzes, learning modules, lesson plans, syllabi, worksheets, data, and more. A recent Shorthorn article discusses how the high cost of textbooks and the use of digital access codes impact students’ academic success. More than half of the students who drop out of college cite financial barriers or the need to work as the primary reason; OER alleviate students’ stress about paying for textbooks.

“The feedback we received from students during our first year of the grant program really reinforced what we believe about the value of OER,” said Michelle Reed, Open Education Librarian for UTA Libraries. “The financial relief is substantial and learning barriers are reduced when we work together to eliminate cost and access hurdles that so frequently sit between students and their academic success.”

Civil Engineering Senior Lecturer Habib Ahmari received the UTA CARES Innovation Grant. Dr. Ahmari proposes “to transform the traditional teaching [of] Fluid Mechanics Lab” by developing a Web-based multimedia platform providing students with open access materials, including customized lab manuals, educational videos, and an interactive lab-report-preparation toolkit.

“Without this support,” Dr. Ahmari said, “I wouldn’t be able to produce course materials (educational videos, lab manuals, lab report preparation toolkit) that are needed to implement this OER and help our students to better education.”

Three Adoption Stipends were also given. One went to Mathematics Associate Professor Theresa Jorgensen to transition Geometry 3301 to OER. The project includes modifying the syllabus, course assignments, and course delivery method.

“The financial cost of traditional math textbooks is very significant,” Dr. Jorgensen said. “I didn't want students to have to purchase a textbook if it wasn't maximizing their possibilities for learning.”

The second stipend went to History Professor Andrew Milson for his course in human geography. Dr. Milson intends to replace the course textbook with OER and content from the UTA Libraries’ collection. Students will also contribute to their field by creating and editing Wikipedia pages.

“I am concerned about the rising costs of college education,” Dr. Milson said, “I believe that adopting OER in my course is one small thing I can do to counter this trend.”

The third stipend recipient is Economics Associate Clinical Professor Christy Spivey, who is developing Economic Data Analysis Capstone, a new course that begins Fall 2018. Students will use Wiki Education and open source materials from Tableau to analyze an economic question using real data and to clearly communicate the findings to a non-Economics major.

The final grant recipient is Spanish Associate Professor Ignacio Ruiz-Pérez, who was granted an Innovation Seed award. His goal is to create the first two chapters of an open textbook for Spanish 3315: Composition through Literature. Dr. Ruiz-Pérez plans to use OER that will provide Spanish students a more personalized and effective learning experience adjusted to the specific challenges they encounter in today’s global world.

“Cultural immersion students require a ‘practical’ approach to composition,” Dr. Ruiz-Pérez said, “something that provides them with the skills and knowledge to enable them to succeed in our highly competitive job market. Therefore, in the last few years I've been drastically modifying my syllabus in order to address those needs while looking for open access materials reflecting the content of my syllabus.”

Reed said that the Libraries supports the switch to OER in many ways for all UTA educators, including faculty, graduate students, staff—anyone who teaches can benefit from using OER.

“Our grantees represent a small portion of the projects and partners we’ve been working with on open education initiatives,” said Michelle Reed, Open Education Librarian for UTA Libraries. “We have much growth before us, but we should also take a moment to celebrate the growing number of educators willing to invest their time and energy into projects, like those of our 2018 grantees, that can have such a big impact on student success.”

The UTA CARES (Coalition for Alternative Resources in Education for Students) Grant Program, sponsored by UTA Libraries, was established in 2017 to support educators interested in practicing open education through the adoption of OER and, when no suitable open resource is available, through the creation of new OER or the adoption of library-licensed or other free content. Additionally, the program promotes innovation in teaching and learning through the exploration of open educational practices, such as collaborating with students to produce educational content of value to a wider community.

Michelle Reed