How Musselman Library, JCCTL are championing student success through affordable course materials

Hana Huskic ’22
Hana Huskic ’22, who organized a student petition about textbook affordability in October 2021

In 2014, Musselman Library offered its first presentation on Open Educational Resources (OER) and the positive impact they could have on campus. Since then, later partnering with the Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning (JCCTL) in 2019, Gettysburg College’s all-time textbook savings have surpassed $1.6 million, including $300,000 saved in the Fall 2023 semester thanks to 104 zero-cost courses taken by more than 1,500 students.

To help counter the rising costs of textbooks, Gettysburg College remains committed to affordable course materials through this initiative, which has expanded to include professional development opportunities for faculty.

“The textbook affordability initiative is rooted in our equity mindset for supporting student success,” said Janelle Wertzberger, the assistant dean and director of scholarly communications at Musselman Library.

Learn more about OER and their impact from Wertzberger:

What are Open Educational Resources?

“OER are educational materials, like textbooks, that are free of charge and free of most copyright restrictions. Many people first learn about OER through the lens of textbook affordability, which can be tremendously impactful to students. The power of open licensing is even more transformational than the cost of OER. Open licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, mean that OER are free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. In other words, it is completely legal to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute this material. Instructors can modify OER to make a custom textbook that perfectly supports their course content and learning objectives. Students don’t have to pay for it, and they can keep this material forever. In these ways, OER are superior to commercial textbooks which cost more, and, in many cases, are not owned by students because they often rent books for multiple semesters.”

How are Musselman Library and the JCCTL partnering today to provide an innovative solution to rising textbook costs?

“The JCCTL has been an active partner in supporting OER programming for many years, as the choice of learning materials is central to effective teaching. In 2021, we launched an OER Grant to encourage instructors to adopt or remix OER and thereby reduce course material costs for students. In the fall of 2023, we expanded the grant scope to cover zero-cost course conversions. We recognize that many faculty achieve textbook savings by adopting OER, but some achieve it by adopting other zero-cost materials like library-licensed e-books and journal articles. Since both approaches result in a classroom environment with fewer barriers to learning, we now support both. Both the JCCTL and the library are also interested in open pedagogy, which is a form of experiential learning that invites students to contribute to the creation of OER as part of their learning.”

How have Gettysburg College faculty used OER in their classrooms?

“Many departments have used OER for their projects, such as the Mathematics Department, which has the most courses using OER and zero-cost materials. Some other examples include:

  • Environmental Studies Tasha Gownaris adopted an OER for her 100-level oceanography course, but it was initially missing a chapter on marine ecology. She collaborated with students in her 300-level Marine Ecology course to write that chapter and then added it to the existing OER to get the perfect text for her 100-level students. The 300-level students channeled their learning into a form that directly benefits their younger peers. 
  • The Spanish Department remixed an introductory Spanish OER to support how their introductory courses are taught at Gettysburg. They combined elements from several open textbooks and added grammar lessons not covered in those texts. They also incorporated cultural material to share the rich diversity of the Spanish-speaking world, internationally and in the U.S.
  • Management Alice Brawley Newlin and Prof. Marta Maras adapted an open textbook for their Statistical Methods course, which has been used by more than 400 students, saving them an estimated $150,000.”

What professional development opportunities are available for professors to support this initiative?

“Since 2019, we’ve run several textbook review workshops in the model of the Open Education Network—these provide an opportunity for instructors to dip their toes into OER by reviewing an existing open textbook that could support one of their courses. They also contribute to the wider community as their review becomes part of the Open Textbook Library. All our review workshops have been offered in partnership with the JCCTL, and in many ways were the seeds that grew into the JCCTL OER and Zero-Cost Course Conversion Grants. We’ve also offered many one-off presentations and workshops as opportunities for faculty to learn more about specific OER creation platforms or hear from their colleagues and students about how OER has impacted their classrooms. In the coming months, we will work with Educational Technology to support instructor development about topics like accessibility in OER.”

Why is this initiative important for our students?

“The results of our textbook survey in 2019 and 2022 show that nearly 20% of our students struggle academically because they can’t afford books. This negative impact is disproportionately experienced by first-generation students, Pell Grant recipients, and international students. If we’re committed to helping our students succeed, textbook affordability removes one more hurdle—they get the tools they need without having to give up other necessities, work extra hours, or otherwise stress about how they’re going to pay. Students who took classes that received a JCCTL OER grant shared how Gettysburg College faculty are helping to make a difference:

  • ‘Having open materials eliminated a lot of stress about ordering books because I didn't have to worry about how expensive the book would be or if the bookstore had it in stock.’
  • ‘Finding information [in the open textbook] is straightforward, and with how well my professor selected what pieces of the materials to pay attention to, my time felt very respected and was used efficiently.’”

How does this initiative support the College’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?

“A student who realizes they can’t afford assigned materials on the first day of class does not feel a sense of belonging. We can avoid this with careful attention to course material selections. Commercial textbooks aren’t always as inclusive as we’d like them to be, but OER are editable so it’s easy to insert material that is missing. For example, Scientist Spotlights can be added to open science textbooks. Student-created spotlights are a great example of open pedagogy, too.”

How can members of the Gettysburg College community continue to be champions of this initiative?

“We encourage individuals to reach out to us so we can brainstorm together and address barriers to learning. Every member of the College community can champion this initiative from their own standpoint. Students have the power to speak up and advocate for options that work for them. Instructors have the power to select and create materials that facilitate their learning objectives. Administrators have the power to incentivize choices that lead to less reliance on a broken textbook publishing industry. Donors can support the library and JCCTL’s work to help faculty transition to non-commercial materials. We are all focused on student success.”

By Megan Miller
Photo courtesy of Janelle Wertzberger
Posted: 02/28/24

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