CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University is increasing its efforts to make college more affordable for its students, particularly through the use of free, open access, online textbooks and other essential course materials.
The initiatives should reduce student costs, enhance graduation rates, increase flexibility and allow the use of innovative and interactive online instruction techniques.
The latest example was begun this month with an award of $30,000 by the state of Oregon for an open textbook project.
With this support, OSU faculty will collaborate with those from other state institutions to adapt a biology textbook that now will be freely accessible to OSU students and learners worldwide.
It is estimated the textbook, being adapted by Lindsay Biga and Devon Quick, instructors in Oregon State's Department of Integrative Biology, will eliminate $100,000 in OSU student spending each year. It's one of 16 open online textbooks already in use by OSU students or in production by OSU faculty.
"Oregon State is proactively developing and adapting open textbooks on students' behalf because the cost savings are tremendous," said Dianna Fisher, who coordinated the grant application effort as director of Open Oregon State.
"Research shows that textbook costs are a primary roadblock to degree completion. The more affordable we can make course materials, the more likely students are to graduate."
The findings of a study released earlier this year by the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups show that America's 5.2 million undergraduate students spend $3 billion of their financial aid on textbooks every year. In a 2013 study by the same group, 65 percent of students who responded to the survey said they decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.
Oregon State's attempts to stem the tide include open books that are being used or developed in a variety of subject areas, including business, plant science, oceanography, hydrology and computer science.
The grant for the biology textbook was awarded by the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission as part of its Open Educational Resources (OER) Grant Program. Open Oregon State, which works with faculty to create OER, will provide some matching funds.
At OSU, the textbook will be used for a biology course sequence on human anatomy and physiology. Biga, Quick and the other faculty partners will work to illustrate course concepts through interactive animations so students can visualize molecular, cellular and organismal processes and improve their content knowledge and retention.
The textbook to be adapted is "Anatomy and Physiology" by publisher OpenStax College. The modifications to the anatomy and physiology book will be completed by next summer in time for students to use it fall term 2017.
The project is expected to involve faculty from the University of Oregon, Western Oregon University, Portland State University, and Linn-Benton, Lane and Portland community colleges.
"To me, open textbooks are about flexibility, access and interactivity," Biga said. "Through this grant program, we have the opportunity to invest time and resources into customizing a resource to fit the schedule and curricular needs of our courses and provide free digital access to every enrolled student."
Open textbooks are just one facet of OSU's efforts to make learning opportunities freely accessible to learners. In May, more than 15,800 learners worldwide enrolled in a massive open online course, or MOOC, on permaculture. It was the first MOOC to be developed in-house at OSU, and will be offered again this fall. Due to its far-reaching success, instructor Andrew Millison plans to convert all course materials into an open textbook.