Beers Launches Textbook Alternative Thanks to ALX
The Affordable Learning Exchange (ALX) gives faculty the support they need to adopt, adapt and create open, affordable materials for their course. Support comes in the form of expertise from ALX and its partners, resources to help guide faculty, and grants to fund the development of these materials.
Dr. Melissa Beers, program director in the Department of Psychology, is an ALX grant recipient and affordability champion. Beers and her team received ALX’s Exploration Grant, which allowed her to implement an open alternative to a conventional textbook for her Psychology 2367.01 course.
Students in this course will be using these new course materials this semester, and it’s estimated that they will save $83,700 this year. Here’s more about Beers’ project and her experience developing an open and free textbook alternative.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue this project?
I have been looking at open source materials since 2007 or 2008, and this opportunity got me thinking about one course in particular, Introduction to Social Psychology (Psych 2367.01). It’s a GE course that meets both a social science and second-level writing requirement. Based on our assessment data, students have not been highly satisfied with our textbook, and felt that it wasn’t a helpful resource in this course. I suspect that’s because of the writing-intensive component of this course. There are many textbooks that address the social science objectives well, but we really have never found a good fit for the writing resources. That motivated us to see whether there are better resources out there. We also thought about what it would take for us to actually start to build resources that would better support the writing goals of this particular class.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the quality of the materials that you found? Did it meet your needs and expectations in terms of quality and credibility?
It’s gone pretty well! The first step in our original plan was to first look and see what open resources there are for social psychology, specifically. Finding the materials for that was rather easy, and we quickly found two good options that cover the necessary content. The nice thing is that because they are free and open sources, we can pick the best portions of what is there. There are some parts of both resources that are better for our needs than others. That’s true for any textbook. It’s just that with these resources, it’s a lot easier for us to just use a portion of the content, the material that fits the best, or that we
consider the highest quality. With a traditional textbook, if you like everything but one chapter, you didn’t have a choice; you had to live with it.
Q: What were some of the challenges that you encountered while you were searching for new material and using it for your course?
One challenge I’ve been expecting is that page numbers don’t work the same way with these kinds of materials. It used to be that you would assign a reading based on page numbers in a paper textbook. Well, online materials often don’t have page numbers. We have to figure out how do we assign, and if we just wanted to assign portions of these materials how do we do that.
Another question I have is how will the materials stay current? With paid textbooks, there’s an incentive for an author to revise. With open resources, I don’t know what that process is going to be. That’s what I value about publishers, to be honest with you, because a publisher will work with authors to keep those materials current. They are constantly seeking feedback and doing revisions, and managing that process of curating the material. Who does that now for these open resources? In two or three or four years, how is it going to be sustained? I just don’t know what to expect.
Q: So what are you most excited about for this fall’s implementation of these new materials?
I’m excited to know what students think; I hope they feel like this is an improvement. Compared to some other courses they may be taking, I hope that students like the fact that our course is moving in this direction.
I also hope the instructors feel that it’s an improvement. I’m expecting a little culture shift, some growing pains on the instructors’ part, but that’s true any time you switch a textbook. It will update and modernize the class a bit. I’m just planning to listen to students, listen to instructors, and think about our policies.
This project has created a great opportunity for us to have a bigger conversation about the writing goals of the course. How do we more meaningfully integrate social psychology and writing, and how do we engage all the instructors teaching the class at every campus? That, I’m really excited about, the possibility that that’s going to occur.
I’m very grateful that we had this opportunity and that ODEE is supporting us, because it’s opened the door for us to think about a lot of aspects of our course, and to improve a few things too. This was the impetus for us to start having these conversations about other issues like our writing goals – those conversations will take much longer, but it’s great that we were able to get started!
This interview is the first within a series about our current cohort and their experiences implementing open and affordable course materials in their classes.