Open Textbooks Provide Financial Savings and Pedagogical Benefits for Students

By Noreen Mahoney, Associate Dean, Students & Degree Programs, Edwards School of Business and Brooke Klassen, Director, Undergraduate & Certificate Programs, Edwards School of Business

We have been instructors of Comm 119 Business Competencies for a number of years and the course has evolved significantly during that time. We are constantly adapting and experimenting to add value for our students.  Initially the intention and objectives of the course were to ensure that students had the foundational skills necessary to succeed in their other courses within Edwards and to ensure that students felt a sense of identification with the Edwards School of Business as well as some fundamental computer application skills and foundation knowledge of business concepts. We wanted to have students taking classes in our building interacting with our support staff (particularly our IT staff) early on in their academic careers.

While the course continues to be a way to introduce students to business and business concepts it has expanded to include skills relevant to their overall success in University, mentorship and teamwork. In essence this is a catch all course to ensure students are well prepared for all of their University courses. Because of the diversity of materials required it has been very difficult to find resource materials to support the broad objectives of the course.

For the 2015/2016 academic year we determined that the best way to bring together a diverse set of materials was though a custom publication. We spent several weeks piecing together several texts to form what we felt was the best combination of materials. The quote for this textbook was in the $80-$90 range. Given that the material was very straight forward, non-technical material that was mostly available online in a variety of formats for free, we were unhappy with the cost to the students.

During that time we were made aware through the staff at the Gwenna Moss Centre that there was a repository of on-line open source publications that could be used for educational purposes without charging students through Creative Commons licensing.

This introduced us to a world of information that we could put together and provide as reference to students without requiring they pay significant textbook costs.

We selected a College Success open source book out of the US as our base material and edited it to include Canadian references and information relevant only to our School. We also put together chapters from other open source textbooks to enhance the materials as needed.

For the current year our goal was to simply get started using an open source textbook and to find ways of improving and adding to it over time.

The task was daunting at first as the editing process was quite cumbersome. We learned early on that converting the document into an editable word processing format was much easier than trying to work with the document in pdf format. I’m not sure that had we anticipated the amount of work required to get the chapters ready we would have undertaken this in the timeline that we did.   We set a goal of having all of the chapters ready to go prior to the start of the class. However, it has ended up that we are releasing the textbook one chapter at a time. We surmised that if you asked a student whether they would prefer to pay $80 or wait for the information to be released chapter by chapter as they needed it to prepare for each week’s lecture they would select the latter option.

We also were able to secure funding from the Gwenna Moss Centre to hire some help to create ancillary materials. We originally planned to have an assistant prepare the PowerPoint slides, practice questions and exam materials, however we discovered that we needed to focus all of their time on preparing exam materials. It was too difficult to have someone else prepare the slides as we are both very particular about how we present and wanted to have control over the materials. That meant extra time for us to go in and incorporate the textbook materials into our slides.

We are three quarters of the way through the term and the class has been very successful, albeit a lot of work. In the midst of adopting an open source textbook we also significantly revamped our pedagogy in order to address some gaps in assurance of learning objectives established at the program level.

For anyone thinking of adopting an open source textbook I would strongly suggest starting with a well-researched book and building on it. Look for books that already have the ancillary materials created… and start early!

Don’t think too much about the possible work required or you won’t do it. Change is hard but it comes with its rewards. We are providing more targeted and relevant materials that meet our course objectives very well; there are no extraneous chapters that we have to tell students to ignore. And we know that getting over the hurdle of editing the first edition will make next year much easier. We also saved our students over $25,000 and this makes us (and them) very happy.

Our hope is that once we have finished adapting the book to our standards, we can provide it back to the Canadian marketplace as a valuable and free resource for others to adopt.

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