Jamie Hazlitt on the Open and Affordable Textbook Initiative

Students and faculty alike are concerned about the cost of course materials, and for good reason. The price of textbooks has risen at over three times the rate of inflation, and students bear the cost. At LMU, the average annual cost of books and supplies exceeds the national average of $1200 by nearly $700. As the collection development librarian, my job is to make sure that the decisions we make with building the library collections are aligned with the research and teaching needs of our faculty and students. We saw an opportunity to use library resources to expand access to the materials that students need for their courses, but may not be able to afford.

In 2016, I led the effort to launch the library’s Course Adopted Text(s) e-book initiative, colloquially called CATS. Each semester, my team and I identify which books adopted for course use by LMU faculty are either already in the library collections in multi-user e-book format, or can be purchased. To date, we have invested thousands of dollars in library collection development funds in acquiring over 600 multi-user e-books assigned in hundreds of courses at LMU, across all schools and colleges (in addition to existing books already in our collections). On average, we have 24% of the required course adopted texts each semester available in e-book format for LMU students to access from anywhere, for free! But we can only purchase what the publishers will make available for libraries to license, and this makes it challenging to expand the CATS offerings for our community.

Students want and need high quality learning materials that bring value to their education. Faculty care deeply about connecting meaningful and expert resources with learning outcomes in their course design. Libraries are at the center of access to information on university campuses. A growing international movement called Open Education – connecting librarians, educators, and students – offers one solution to the unsustainable burden of the traditional textbook market for students while also empowering faculty to adopt and create or customize course materials to meet the unique needs of their classes and to reflect the diversity of their communities.

To introduce our community to the potential of Open Education, in October 2018, the library and the Center for Teaching Excellence brought Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), to LMU during international Open Access Week. (View Nicole’s talk here.)

Inspired by Nicole and the work of SPARC, and of the growing community of LMU faculty interested in reducing the cost of their courses for students whose needs cannot be met by CATS books, I applied to become a SPARC Open Education Leadership Fellow. I was honored and delighted to learn that I was accepted into the third cohort of the program – the first librarian from an AJCU institution to participate. In September 2019, with the enthusiastic support of library leadership, I began the intensive professional development program that continues through May 2020.

As a SPARC leadership fellow, I spent fall semester learning alongside a cohort of 26 librarian fellows from institutions across 17 states and Canada. Together, we are exploring the opportunities and barriers to Open Education, including course materials, pedagogy, outreach, discovery, and implementation, and building a robust and diverse community of practice together. My capstone project – the Open and Affordable Textbook Initiative pilot grant funded through the Office of the Provost – is designed to incentivize multiple faculty from a single academic department to explore open and affordable alternatives to traditional course materials for two or more courses being taught in AY20-21. (The awardees of the grant will be announced next month!)

Open and Affordable Course Material Affordability Spectrum

Throughout the grant period, faculty awardees will be supported in exploring opportunities to move their course materials from the left side of the course material affordability spectrum to the right, and in assessing the cost-savings for students along with their experience with the revised materials.

In addition to the capstone, I am working with the librarian liaisons to plan and conduct a “listening tour” over the next two semesters to learn more about the experience and process of making course material decisions at the department level. What are faculty already doing to reduce the cost of learning materials for their students? Where are there opportunities for change? What are the barriers? What resources are needed? There is no one-size-fits all solution to the course material affordability crisis, but the more we can learn from each other, the more strategic and intentional we can be about working together for our students. I am grateful to the Dean of the Library, the Office of the Provost, the LMU Bookstore, the Center for Teaching Excellence, and SPARC for their continued support of this exploratory initiative.

Are you already adopting free-to-your-students course materials? Are you interested in exploring open and affordable alternatives, but don’t know where to start? We want to hear from you. If you’d like to be a part of the conversation, please email jamie.hazlitt@lmu.edu.

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