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Open education resources can make textbooks more affordable

By Danny Brady

“The cost of textbooks has increased by 162% from January 2020 to June 2022,” Joan Giovannini said. “That’s faster than the average inflation rate so you all as students certainly feel that cost in ways that are extraordinary.”

Giovannini, the Associate Director at the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship at Springfield College, co-hosted a SEAT at the table event with Springfield staff members Gemma Bartha and Sherri VandenAkker on Nov. 10 over Zoom. The event garnered the attention of many Springfield students, as over 90 people attended.

They discussed the financial challenges associated with textbooks and how open education resources, or OERs, could be a potential solution. OERs are materials used for teaching, learning and research that are created to be free for users.

Giovannini was a faculty member at Holyoke Community College for 24 years in the education department before coming to Springfield College in September 2018. She started at Springfield College full time in May of last year.

“I wanted to do more work in faculty development and building around institutional capacity around things like open education resources,”Giovannini said.

Before the event, Giovannini made it clear that Springfield students can use OERs for two things: cost savings and inclusiveness.

“[Springfield students should] push for more use of (OERs) so that the cost of education is lower for them,” Giovannini said.“[Springfield students should also understand] that OE’s are a tool that we can use for social justice and equity issues around representation in textbooks, making sure we’re presenting information that’s thoughtful and useful for students and that resonates with their experience.”

During the presentation, Giovannini gave participants a background understanding of OERs. A few things stood out.

First she asked participants to write in the chat how much money they spent on textbooks per semester. The average was somewhere between $250 to $350. She then asked participants to write if they chose not to purchase a textbook because of its cost. An overwhelming number of students replied in the affirmative.

This small data set was consistent with national data.

“At least 64.2% of students in 2017 did not purchase a textbook because of its cost,” Giovannini added. “You’re exactly aligned with what we know to be true nationally.”

After highlighting the problems of overpriced textbooks, Giovannini then talked about how students and staff can best find library licensed materials or OERs at Springfield.

“Library services have trained librarians who can help faculty, staff, and students look for OERs because it can be a little time consuming and if you’re not familiar with the tools right away it can take some time.” Giovannini said.

Sophomore Julianna Torres, a Physician Assistant Studies major, spent over 200 dollars on textbooks this semester.
“Professors have to be willing to put in the effort if they are going to create sources that are available and free to students,” Torres said. “If the students are getting the free resources they should probably be putting in the effort to look at the resources and utilize them.”

Torres is confident that OERs can be an effective solution but she was left wondering how soon OERs could be used as textbooks in her class.

“I’m gonna be at Springfield College for a total of six years,” Torres said, “So if that could be implemented sooner rather than later that will be a great resource for me as well as many other students.”

Photo courtesy of Springfield College

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