According to Ohio University’s Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, students report spending over $1,000 per year on textbooks. Since 2015, the University has significantly increased its efforts to reduce the cost of an education for its students by focusing on cutting the hefty price of textbooks and materials.
Known as the Textbook Initiative, a large part of this was an expansion to faculty’s access of Open Educational Resources (OER). This was done through the University’s partnership with Top Hat, piloting an inclusive access program, and the University Libraries joining the Open Textbook Network. Thanks to faculty’s ambition and investments in adopting OER content in their courses, Ohio University has saved students over $2 million since 2016.
“I am simply awed by the commitment of faculty across Ohio University to embrace the mission of reducing the cost of course materials to students,” said Brad Cohen, senior vice provost for instructional innovation. “Since we began the initiative three years ago, and especially in the launch of our OER partnership with Top Hat, the faculty response has been immediate and sustained. We far exceeded our goal, and hope to go even further this year.”
To date, OHIO faculty who have participated in the Ohio University–Top Hat partnership have impacted 9,154 students across the University. A few faculty members have been particularly influential throughout the process as early adopters of OER via the partnership. Read about their experiences adopting OER:
As a professor of economics, Beers has always been passionate about affordability. She keeps in mind her students’ budgets and incentives. In the past, one of her students was forced to consider dropping out of college altogether because of their textbook costs. At the time, Beers’s course required paid access to an online platform/e-text. To accommodate this student (and ultimately uphold their enrollment), Beers created alternative paper assignments for them to submit and for her to grade by hand.
Over the summer, she took advantage of the University’s partnership with Top Hat and adopted OER (via the Top Hat Marketplace) for her “Principles of Macroeconomics” (ECON 1040) and “Intermediate Macroeconomics” (ECON 3040) courses. By shifting from textbooks to these OER this semester, she has saved approximately $144 and $174 per student, respectively. Beers’s Introduction to Macroeconomics course now utilizes a $30 text that includes interactive reading assignments and end-of-chapter quizzes. This course enrolls around 200 students. For her ECON 3040 course, she is now using multiple textbooks Top Hat located for her. “The price was what initially caught my attention, but I also made the switch to OER because I think the Top Hat platform is more in tune with what students are comfortable with in terms of technology,” she said. She noted these online texts can be customized to her liking, and she can insert comprehension questions at any point she chooses.
William Condee, J. Richard Hamilton Professor of the Humanities and professor of theater in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts, made a significant impact on his students this summer when he converted to a no-cost solution. His IART 1180 course has 246 students enrolled this fall semester, which saved those students $70,000 this semester alone.
Dr. Condee was dissatisfied with the textbook he previously used for IART 1180, “Introduction to the Arts: Objects and Events.” Candice Morris, director of instructional design and strategic program initiatives in the Office of Instructional Innovation, encouraged him to look into Top Hat’s Open Educational Resources, which he ended up using to craft a course platform.
The staff at Top Hat helped him create an environment that best served both his and his students’ needs; they worked with his learning goals and course strategies while also using resources he and other faculty and staff had gathered. “Initially, we had some trouble finding resources in the arts and humanities, but other faculty and staff, especially Jennie Klein (Art + Design) and Lorraine Wochna (Alden Library), were enormously helpful in finding good resources,” said Condee. After compiling his collection of resources, he presented them to all faculty in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and the new text/OER was approved.
Some of the sources he is using include:
“Top Hat’s online material is very flexible so it can be tailored by each person teaching the course and easily updated in the future,” said Condee. “I have not had to change what I teach in order to fit in OERs. Instead, I have found OERs that match my learning goals, and the articles are written by specialized scholars in each field, not generalists.” Condee particularly likes that he can target specific topics he wants his students to learn, instead of assigning random chapters to students without being able to address all the content in class.
Dr. Angela Hillman, assistant professor in exercise physiology, is involved with lower-cost course material options in more ways than one. Along with adopting OER for two of her courses through the Top Hat partnership, she partially authored a textbook through the platform.
There had been only one textbook option for Hillman’s EXPH 1490 course, “Introduction to Exercise Science,” and it did not fully fit her needs. “As an introduction to the major, this course typically enrolls 400 students,” said Hillman, “so it’s really important to get them that baseline of knowledge and a solid introduction to the topics they will be seeing over the next four years.”
Through the Top Hat Marketplace, Hillman worked with Anna Brooks and Marc Barr, lecturers in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, to customize this textbook to her department’s requirements. She ultimately only kept four chapters from the book that fit the course’s needs; she wrote five additional chapters, co-wrote another chapter, and proofed a remaining six chapters. The material was finalized over the summer in time to use for three sections of her fall semester course (two in-person sections and one online). “Top Hat has a good selection of open source books, so we edited that material to suit our needs,” she said.
On top of her textbook authoring, Hillman is conducting a study on student outcomes based on open source materials. Her research will look at students’ perceptions of using an online educational resource as the primary material for her course (even though the course is not online) and compare this to using a traditional textbook. “We want to know if students have any apprehension or if they feel excited about this format of course materials,” Hillman said. She plans to check in with the students mid- and post-semester to assess their feelings, and whether or not they liked the online text/quizzes and why. The goal is to follow students throughout their four years in the major and have focus groups to draw out the details of what they did and did not enjoy in order to improve their learning.
“We think this study is especially important given the University’s partnering with Top Hat and moving to OER for cost savings,” said Hillman. “Perhaps, after all, it doesn’t improve learning, or is poorly received by the students. All this information is very important.”
In his career, Condee focuses on how he can provide students with the best education possible while keeping in mind the cost of that education. “For me, these goals are compatible,” he said. “For my 'Introduction to the Arts' course, we’ve used a series of expensive textbooks and the faculty have been consistently dissatisfied with them,” said Condee. “We found OERs that were better than the expensive texts, so instead of students purchasing (or not!) a pricey textbook and then using, perhaps, only a portion of it, with the OERs we’re using, instructors can target exactly the subjects they want students to study.”
Beers emphasized she thinks affordability is important for faculty to focus on because it can really make or break a student’s semester, or even their college career. “It can be easy for us to forget what it was like in college,” said Beers. “If a student has five classes and each textbook costs at least $100, that’s quite a lot of money for someone who may not be receiving a lot in terms of financial or familial aid. At that stage in life, even $50 can be a big deal.” She added that with the ever-rising cost of tuition, faculty should try to give students a break on their costs somewhere. “We should be mindful of the effort students put into earning wages.”
Beers has heavily revised her lecture notes and assignments to match her new textbook, but she believes her in-class participation is much easier for both herself and her students.
The biggest takeaway for Hillman is that if her students are happy with switching to OER and it does not hurt or negatively affect their learning, OER are a great option for faculty. “It’s cost-effective and you can quiz students as they read to enforce learning, so if our students feel it’s not a hindrance to their learning (which is the point of our research), I think faculty should adopt OER,” she said.
Condee added that if faculty do have affordable and excellent texts for students to purchase for their courses, it makes sense to keep them. He still requires students in his "Modern Drama" course to purchase an anthology textbook, which he then supplements with online sources that are available at no cost. Wochna, subject librarian for film, theatre, English, and African American studies, has helped him locate and utilize these sources.
Cohen is optimistic the open resource movement will continue to benefit both faculty and students at Ohio University. He attributes this drive to the institution’s high-quality faculty. “These faculty exemplify the commitment to thoughtfully integrating low-cost alternatives to overpriced textbooks that our students can access on day one of their courses,” said Cohen. “We need more faculty to step into the OER world to reach our audacious goal of converting 100 courses to open resources, and I hope these stories of their peers will encourage more faculty to embrace this opportunity.
Faculty interested in learning more about Top Hat and OER should visit the Office of Instructional Innovation’s OHIO–Top Hat Partnership web page.
The Office of Instructional Innovation (OII) serves as a catalyst to spark bold experimentation and sustainable discovery of innovative instructional models that fulfill the University’s promise of a transformative educational experience. OII provides a variety of services to faculty, staff, and students in support of academic units and online programs, as well as to advance initiatives to further the institution’s mission. Visit our home page for more information.
Office of Instructional Innovation
Lecturer of Economics
Department of Economics, College of Arts and Sciences
J. Richard Hamilton Professor of the Humanities, Professor of Theater
School of Interdisciplinary Arts, College of Fine Arts
Assistant Professor in Exercise Physiology
College of Health Sciences and Professions