Student Government Association (SGA) is working to bring open-access textbooks to Trinity. These textbooks are published under an open copyright, would be available for free online, as well as in print for a fraction of the price students currently pay.
The price of textbooks has been a source of stress and indignation among many students. In January 2016, a strongly worded post in Overheard at Trinity about the price of textbooks got almost 150 likes.
Carlie McCrory, the current junior who wrote the post, was frustrated by the high price of a particular textbook and by the larger system in which publishers drive up prices by frequently publishing new editions that professors then require students to purchase.
Diane Graves, University librarian and professor, commented on McCrory’s post with a link to Openstax.org, an open-source textbook site.
Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life and professor of sociology agrees with Graves.
“I don’t think it lends itself to goodwill with our students when you guys have to go and pay 300 bucks or 200 bucks for a couple paperback books,” said Tynes.
Graves explained that the system of driving up textbook prices for students is similar to the one that makes academic journals so expensive for the library to acquire.
Institutions like Trinity support faculty research, which is then reviewed by an editorial board. Then, faculty often sign away their rights to their article to for-profit journals which sell them back to higher-education institutions for tens of thousands of dollars a year.
In 2009, Graves was a key leader in getting Trinity to adopt an open-access policy for faculty produced academic work.
Since the policy passed, faculty make their work available in Trinity’s Digital Commons, where they are free for public access.
“We were the first school of this size and type to do that,” Graves said. “And I guess you can argue that there’s an opportunity for us to be trail blazers on [open-access textbooks] too, because so far this sector of higher education has not really embraced this yet.”
Graves explained that studies have shown that student-learning outcomes are usually better when using Open Educational Resources (OER) as opposed to traditional textbooks by for-profit publishers, because more students actually buy the lower cost OER books.
Trinity alumnus Nick Shockey, class of 2009, who now works at at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), expressed that even e-books, which are touted as lower-cost alternatives to print textbooks, do not save students nearly as much money as they could save using OER. Shockey, also a member of Trinity’s National Alumni Board, introduced the idea to SGA as an area in which Trinity could be a leader among small schools.
In addition to supporting institutions in transition to using more open textbooks, SPARC works to create public policies that facilitate this transition nationwide.
When Shockey was a student at Trinity, the student government was one of the first in the nation to call on the federal government to make publically funded educational resources openly available.
In 2013, SPARC finished this work.
“We were successful in getting the Obama administration to issue an executive direction requiring all federal agencies to require articles that report on the research they fund to be made publically available within 12 months,” Shockey said.
SPARC has worked with the Departments of Labor and Education (DOE) to pass a similar measure for textbooks funded by those branches. A proposal is currently pending with the DOE; Shockey expects that it will be decided on within a few weeks.
In addition to these national efforts underway at SPARC, the initiative is gaining force on campus at Trinity.
SGA held its first event to promote the Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative at their “How Much Did You Pay” tabling event on Sept. 14, where students spoke with SGA senators about OER and wrote the amount they spent on textbooks this semester on a whiteboard.
Brenna Hill, SGA president, expressed that the event was successful in bringing the idea to the attention of students who had never heard of OER.
When SGA garners enough student support, they will pass a resolution that will then go to the Faculty Senate. The goal is then for the Senate to pass a policy encouraging the use of open textbooks at Trinity.
“To do that we’d also need some support from administrators, which we already have,” Hill said. “Dr. Anderson’s really in favor of this, as well as Dr. Sheryl Tynes, and we’re working to build more supporters that we can kind of use to show faculty, hey, this is something that administration and students are all really behind.”
Tynes explained that faculty are not always aware of how much students are paying for their books.
One of the major challenges in bringing open-access textbooks to college campuses is faculty awareness that there are high-quality open access options.
“Large commercial publishers that have $200 textbooks have large sales forces that go out and meet with the faculty and provide free copies of textbooks, and make sure those materials get in front of faculty,” Shockey said. “But there isn’t such a sales force for open [educational] materials.”
“We really just want professors to, at first, just consider those books, to take a look at them and look at the quality, because they’re really high-quality textbooks,” Hill said.
In the meantime, SGA is working to bring more open-access textbooks to Trinity as soon as possible.
“We’re hopeful that we can at least introduce, maybe on a trial basis, a few by next semester or the following semester, but that’s very ambitious, and sometimes it’s a slow-going process,” Hill said.
Tynes expressed that student interest will be crucial in bringing open access textbooks to Trinity classrooms.
“My sense is that if students say, this is really important to us, we’re absolutely going to listen,” Tynes said.
Students who are intersted in OER are encouraged to reach out to SGA members via email through firstname.lastname@example.org.