The rising cost of textbooks and other instructional materials has long been documented. Since the start of the 2000s, textbook prices have increased by nearly 4 times the rate of inflation. The high price of textbooks is more than a financial issue – it can represent a significant barrier to student success. In the state of Florida at least 23% of students reported dropping a course because they could not afford the textbook.
However, course materials represent one of the few educational costs that faculty can directly impact. If you consider affordability when you make your textbook selections, you can significantly increase progress and degree attainment for many students. Making affordable changes doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many options for finding affordable content.
Learn the Ins and Outs of OER
The term Open Educational Resources (OER) describes any educational resource (including curriculum maps, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, multimedia applications, podcasts, and any other materials that can be used for teaching and learning) that is available at no cost for educators and students. OERs are most often licensed under Creative Commons. This licensing framework allows authors to retain recognition for their work while also allowing users to share or adapt it for educational purposes. Creative Commons also includes licensing options that restrict an open resource from being used commercially.
The Five “R”s
When using an open resource, you are generally allowed to take advantage of the five permissions listed below:
- Retain: The right to make, own, and control copies of the content.
- Reuse: The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video).
- Revise: The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language).
- Remix: The right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup).
- Redistribute: The right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) (Wiley, 2014).
Search for Free and Open Course Materials
The vast amount of open materials available can make the OER landscape seem daunting to navigate, but there are many repositories that curate high-quality OER collections. Use the lists below to find free and open materials for use in your course.
- LibreTexts: Since winning a $5 million federal grant, this multi-institutional program has launched a site offering access to nearly 400 free books and courses.
- OpenStax: Publishes peer-reviewed, free undergraduate-level textbooks. All books can be freely imported, adapted, and shared using PressBooks. Students may opt to purchase a print copy for a small fee.
- Open Textbook Library: Provides access to freely available and adaptable books across disciplines. All books submitted are actively used in higher education institutions. OTL includes helpful reviews from instructors for most titles.
- Pressbooks: UF has its own instance of Pressbooks, a publishing tool that makes it easy to import and use free content. Use the Pressbooks directory to find free textbooks to adopt and adapt or create and distribute your own.
- Coursera: Provides universal access to thousands of courses and specializations by partnering with the world’s best education organizations and top universities.
- Florida CourseShare: The Florida CourseShare initiative collects and shares course materials donated from instructors here at UF and all over the state of Florida. Housed inside of Canvas Commons, this collection can be used by you to supplement your class materials or to build your course out entirely.
- Open Course Library: Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Washington State Legislature, the Open Course Library provides a collection of high-quality, free-to-use courses that you can download and use for teaching. All content is stored in Google docs making it easy to access, browse, and download.
- Open Learning Initiative: A grant-funded group at Carnegie Mellon University that offers innovative online courses to anyone who wants to learn or teach.
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog: The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog provides broad access to a wide variety of catalog records and digital images from over 50 different collections. They maintain an archive of free-to-use materials from their collection.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection: The Met implemented a new Open Access policy, in accordance with the Creative Commons Zero designation, that provides access to ~450,000 pieces of its art collection for the public domain.
- Pexels: Search through thousands of royalty-free images on Pexels. You can use all images on Pexels for free, even for commercial use.
- Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP): SPOHP facilitates the collecting and archiving of oral histories on topics from the Latinx Diaspora in America to the Art of Aging. With over 8000 interviews under their belt, SPOHP's oral histories can be a rich source of course content regardless of your field of study.
- TED: TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED encourages you to use and share their talks, which are all licensed under Creative Commons.
Work With Your Bookstore
Some university bookstores partner with publishers to make textbooks available to students electronically at a reduced price. Aside from saving money, one of the main benefits of programs like these is that it ensures students have access to their materials (including homework tools and other courseware) on the first day of class. Contact your bookstore or publishing representatives to find out of you have access to such programs.
- Butcher, N., Kanwar, A., & Uvalić-Trumbić, S. (2011). A basic guide to open educational resources (OER). Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning.
- Collins, P. (2021, July 26). Discover free and openly available resources. Affordable UF. Retrieved from http://affordabletexts.ufl.edu/for-instructors/find-affordable-educational-resources/find-oer/
- Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources, which was originally written by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at http://opencontent.org/definition/.
- FLVC: Florida Virtual Campus, 2018 Student Textbook and Course Materials Survey: Results and Findings (Tallahassee, FL: 2018), https://dlss.flvc.org/documents/210036/1314923/2018+Student+Textbook+and+Course+Materials+Survey+Report+–+FINAL+VERSION+–+20190308.pdf/07478d85-89c2-3742-209a-9cc5df8cd7ea
- Alexandra Okada (2012): Participatory design: creating Open Educational Resources using social media
- Jenkins, J. J., Sánchez, L. A., Schraedley, M. A., Hannans, J., Navick, N., & Young, J. (2020). Textbook broke: Textbook affordability as a social justice issue. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 1(3), 1.
- John Hilton (2016): Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions