Celebrating Free Books

To help faculty and students become comfortable with the new open-source textbook format, the University of Idaho's library celebrated Open Education Week in April.
When the University of Idaho announced in February that it was signing on with open-source textbook system OpenStax, administrators wanted to make sure faculty and students understood the advantages of free textbooks. For instance, faculty can select chapters from various peer-reviewed sources and combine them into unique textbooks; students can access the finished products online for free or buy printed versions through the university’s store for less than traditional textbooks.

Despite these benefits, “faculty remain concerned about the quality of free and open educational materials,” says Anne Gaines, UI Library faculty member and coordinator of UI’s open source textbook project. To help faculty and students become comfortable with the new format, the library celebrated Open Education Week in April.

Among the scheduled activities was an Open Textbook Petting Zoo, which enabled students and professors to compare open textbooks to printed ones. The Wikipedia edit-a-thon workshop allowed participants to fact-check Wikipedia articles related to the university by consulting materials at the library. A panel discussion encouraged teachers and students to share experiences they had had with open textbooks, while another discussion explored the ways that free textbooks can remove cost barriers for students who want to attend college.

In fact, high book costs actually can have an impact on the number of students who enroll in college or complete their coursework if they do, says Gaines. “Faculty report 65 percent to 80 percent of students do not have their textbooks on the first day of class either because they can’t afford them, financial aid is late, or books are still in transit. What if every student had immediate access to that textbook on day one? The cost of textbooks is something professors and librarians can do something about.”

For information, see www.lib.uidaho.edu/services/scholarly/opened2016.html.