UNLV College of Liberal Arts adopts free textbooks

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Image taken from the OER page on UNLV's University Libraries website. https://www.library.unlv.edu/oer

UNLV’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force partnered with the College of Liberal Arts to provide a free textbook to its first-year seminar students last fall. 

“For a long time, I’ve been wanting to convert the textbook that we use for the first year seminar class, to free online,” said professor and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Denise Tillery. “The last time they issued a new edition was in 2020. And we looked at the price point, and we just thought that that’s just over the line. We don’t want to ask our students to pay that much.”

The task force continues to work to provide students on campus with free class resources.

According to a news release by UNLV, 15 sections of the first-year seminar for Liberal Arts replaced the previous textbook, which would have cost over $80 per-student. The new, digital textbook is available to students via OpenStax, an online learning platform by Rice University for free. 

“Well, I loved it,” said UNLV professor and director of student and community engagement for the College of Liberal Arts, Jenna Heath. “They provide not just the textbook, but there’s a lot of other options as well. So they provide quiz banks, they provide PowerPoints, things that we can use as instructors to help us teach the material.”

Heath said that she had multiple conversations with students from her seminar classes last fall, and they were very happy with the new textbook. 

The OER task force is a partnership between UNLV’s office of information technology, office of online education, bookstore, Faculty Center and University Libraries to fight the rising costs of textbooks by giving students access to free or cheaper resources. 

Melissa Bowles-Terry, director of UNLV’s Faculty Center and member of the OER Task Force, said that the use of open resources is happening more often in Universities across the country. She works to help professors adopt them at UNLV when available. However, it can be very difficult for a professor to change their textbook.

“It is a heavy lift to ditch your old textbook,” Bowles-Terry said. “Which your syllabus may be built around, homework assignments, everything could be built around that textbook. So to put that aside and try something new, you need a little bit of an incentive, a little bit of a boost and some support to do that. So that’s what we meant to do with the taskforce is get a few faculty members together to talk about why we want to do it, and then how.”

Bowles-Terry said that multiple platforms and resources are available on UNLV’s library website. She also encouraged asking professors for any additional resources for classes. Heath echoed this message for students who find helpful resources that their professors may have missed.

“I think one of the things that I love about OER is just how accessible it is,” Heath said. “Something that I encourage my students to do is if they are finding supplementary materials that are free and open access, share them with me as an instructor so that I can consider using them in future courses… Sometimes students find content that is so much more relatable and honestly things that they just like better than what we find. If students are pursuing OER options or just finding accessible materials, I encourage them to share that within their instructors because a lot of times they find things that we would never stumble upon.”

Bowles-Terry said that more professors across campus are adopting OER into their curriculum, and some have already been doing so for years. She also applauded other professors who advise students to find the cheapest copy of their textbook, whether in the bookstore or not. 

“What OER is, is shared information. The idea of information being freely available is, I think, so important,” Bowles-Terry said. “And it should be accessible to everyone. So I just think that the fact that folks are willing to write a textbook and make it freely available online is something to celebrate.”

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