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Making college life more affordable

By August 11, 2016September 16th, 2023No Comments
Shane Nackerud and Nora Paul

Shane Nackerud and Nora Paul

Samuel Wood’s eyes are glued to his smartphone during Information for Mass Communication class and that’s perfectly OK with his professor, Nora Paul. She knows that he’s not texting his friends, but instead is reading his textbook, one she co-authored with Professor Kathleen Hansen, in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Information Strategies for Communicators once was a print textbook that cost $110 and more recently $65 as an e-book served up by a vendor.

Today it’s a free, user-friendly e-book for Wood, his fellow students, or to anyone interested in the subject, due in part to the efforts of the University Libraries’ Kristi Jensen and Shane Nackerud.

“Here at the University Libraries not only do we advocate using free and open textbooks, but we can help faculty create them,” said Nackerud, M.L.S. His team developed the e-book so it could be read on virtually any device and could be downloaded as an iBook or a PDF document and printed for reading and marking up offline.

“It worked slick and we really appreciated how Shane listened to what we wanted for functionalities of the text,” said Paul, M.L.S. She and Hansen estimate the total annual savings for the 300 students who take the class at nearly $20,000.

Hansen, M.L.S., also credited Nackerud and Jensen with being “incredibly helpful” on intellectual property and copyright issues.

“We really relied on the Libraries’ expertise to sort out what could we use, what kind of images could we import, [and] how to give intellectual property credit.”

The open textbook publishing project is just one example of the Libraries’ Partnership for Affordable Content initiative, which is led by Nackerud and Jensen. The effort aims to reduce student costs while developing innovative and effective course materials.

Changing culture, improving student success

“We’re working to change the culture here on campus, in the way that faculty think about the cost and delivery of course content,” said Jensen, M.L.S.

She said textbook costs have increased 800 percent to 1,000 percent over the last 30 years and studies show that students may drop a class, fail a class, or choose not to take a class because they can’t afford the course materials.

“We can increase students’ academic success if they have lower-cost or no-cost materials,” Jensen said, adding that these lower-cost materials can also provide a better learning experience.

2015-2016 savings: $1.3 million

Student Savings SamplesIn 2015-2016 alone, Libraries officials estimate that the Partnership for Affordable Content has potentially saved students about $1.3 million due to multiple efforts.

These include:

• Developing digital course packs that provide electronic course materials already licensed by the Libraries, open content, copyrighted material used via fair use claims made by faculty, and content that includes royalty fees (when necessary), delivered digitally to students in partnership with the University Bookstores. The content can be accessed by computers, tablets, or smartphones.

• Using existing licensed e-books or purchasing licenses for multi-user e-books that can be used by a given class at no charge to students.

• Publishing new open textbooks and other openly licensed educational materials authored by U of M faculty that can be reused here and worldwide.

• Using Interlibrary Loan for borrowing course books from other libraries for use by students at the University of Minnesota.

• Directing faculty/students to open textbooks from other universities or academic collections.

Bookstores-Libraries partnership saved $700,000

Students saved an estimated $700,000 during the 2015-2016 academic year due to an ongoing partnership between the Libraries and the University of Minnesota Bookstores.

The process begins with the Bookstores, which provides the Libraries with a list of required readings for courses. The Libraries matches items on the list to any existing multi-use e-books in the Libraries collection or else purchases available multi-use e-books. From its website, the Bookstore then links directly to the list of e-books on the Libraries website.

In the fall semester alone, Nackerud said that the Libraries provided multi-use e-books to more than 400 courses. He noted that one large psychology class used an existing e-book in place of a $150 print book, potentially saving students a total of $9,000.

“We were quite happy about that and I think we can do that on a larger scale,” Nackerud said.

Mary Maronde, a program associate in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said that the Bookstores-Libraries partnership is important for students in her school.

“Our students are modern students and they’re used to accessing materials electronically – it’s their way of finding and storing information,” Maronde said, adding that cost savings are also important. “Anything we can do to send students out of the Humphrey School and the University with little debt is crucial to them. And e-books help.”

Digital Course Pack saved more than $200,000 in Fall Semester

Kristi Jensen and Elizabeth Wattenberg

Kristi Jensen and Elizabeth Wattenberg

“The libraries here at the University of Minnesota are an amazing resource,” said Elizabeth Wattenberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health.

She worked with Jensen and Nackerud to create a Digital Course Pack for about 40 graduate students in PUBH 6104: Environmental Health Effects. The digital materials replaced a $90 print textbook that was not specific enough for the course, saving students in the class a total of $3,600.

“There’s really no great introductory toxicology textbook,” Wattenberg said. “Students were spending a lot of money for not a lot of content.”

In contrast, the Digital Course Pack put together by the Libraries included mostly free content from a variety of sources, which provided Wattenberg flexibility in choosing just the right materials for the course.

Content included:

  • Chapters from multi-user online toxicology textbooks that were purchased by the Libraries, allowing her to select the best chapters from different books.
  • A set of free and publicly available lectures from the National Library of Medicine.
  • A set of free and open videos on toxicology and risk assessment.
  • Other videos were linked to directly on the open web.

Libraries staff also provide faculty with information to help them decide whether a “fair use” claim can be made.

“It was very, very helpful to have the librarians review them to make sure I could use the materials legally,” Wattenberg said of the videos.

This year a version of the class was also taught to 16 undergraduate students in PUBH 3104, saving even more money.

Overall, the Digital Course Pack program saved students a total estimated at $202,000 for fall semester alone.

Positive feedback from students

Students from public affairs to journalism to public health all had positive comments about the Libraries’ efforts to make content more affordable.

“We’re all trying to pinch pennies wherever we can and not having to spend money on textbooks can really free up our budget,” said Humphrey graduate student Renee Van Siclen. She finds that e-books are also more convenient. “I always have my laptop with me and so if I can access the digital version, it gives me a lot more options for when and where I do readings for classes, as opposed to lugging around a big, old textbook.”

“Any time I can access online materials and save them digitally is really nice,” agreed Cameron Amirfathi, a student in Wattenberg’s PUBH 6104. “Being able to have that money … really [helps out] a lot in terms of just being able to live as a student.”

“If one class has two required textbooks and I have three or four classes, that’s over half a grand,” said Wood, the journalism student. “That’s a lot of money for big clunky textbooks. … And it’s important for students to have money for nightlife – and food!”

Still, he seemed to appreciate more the convenience and accessibility of the e-book.

“I think that all classes should use electronic textbooks,” he said. “I really think it’s cool to pull up my textbook on my phone – that’s moving forward, that’s being progressive.”

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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