When Dr. Heather Helms, associate professor of human development and family studies, announced to her class of 230 students that they were swapping their $200 textbook for free, online materials last spring, she was met with loud cheers and a round of applause.

College is an expensive undertaking, and textbooks are especially pricy. The average college student spends $1,500 or more on textbooks each year, and textbook costs are growing three times faster than the inflation rate. It’s not surprising that 60 percent of students go without textbooks due to cost each year.

Like Helms, many professors at UNCG are trying to make the financial burden of college a little more bearable by replacing textbooks with open education resources. These resources are available for free use and re-purposing, either through public domain or open licensing, and include items such as e-books, websites, journal articles, lectures and videos.

Beth Bernhardt, University Libraries’ assistant dean for collection management and scholarly communications, has been championing the use of open education resources for a number of years. It wasn’t until last year, however, that she and her team were able to provide a tangible incentive for professors to convert their curriculum from expensive textbooks to include free resources.

UNCG’s University Libraries and the Office of the Provost provided funds to offer $1,000 mini-grants to 10 professors during the 2015-16 academic year. Twenty-five professors applied, and the 10 who received stipends were able to save a combined total of more than $214,000 each semester for UNCG students in their classes.

Over the next two years, University Libraries will be able to provide 31 additional mini-grants to professors through an $85,000 shared grant with East Carolina University.

Not only do open education resources cut down on student costs, they allow professors to share accurate, up-to-date information in a more engaging way.

“It takes a long time to produce a textbook,” Helms said, adding that information is already dated by the time a brand new textbook hits the shelves.

The freedom to incorporate more digital materials made a difference in Helms’ class as well.

“I felt they were really engaged with the material,” Helms said. “This delivery seems more relevant to them. It seems less archaic than a bulky textbook.”

 

Story by Jeanie McDowell, University Communications