Textbook costs have risen steeply over the last 10-15 years, well past the rate of inflation (Badkar, 2014). As Lafayette moves to “improve access to its education for low-income and middle-class families” (Lafayette Today, 2021), the rising price of course materials may become a significant strain on student budgets. This guide provides information and resources for instructors wishing to learn more about Open Educational Resources (OERs) and other textbook alternatives, or to begin the process of replacing expensive course materials.
The Lafayette Libraries offer grants to faculty interested in making the transition to freely available or library-licensed alternatives to textbooks or other low-cost material. For more information or to apply for a grant please visit the Lafayette Course Affordability Initiative.
The Libraries also offer yearly fellowships to students interested in improving the affordability and accessibility of course materials (such as textbooks) on campus. Fellows receive up to $2,500 for the academic year to work on a project that furthers the goals of Open Education at Lafayette. For more information about the Fellowship and the work involved please visit the Open Education Fellowships page.
A common concern about switching to an OER or freely available text is losing access to publisher-created homeworks, quizzes, problem sets, and other online learning objects. Some of the best repositories of open assignment material are MIT OpenCourseWare, SUNY Geneseo’s OASIS search engine, and MERLOT’s Materials section. GNU also has a page listing free software for education.
The universe of open assignment modules is still growing, and often the best solution to this issue is creating your own objects. MIT’s H5P project offers the ability to build your own modules, such as quizzes, multiple choice or true/false questions, dialog cards, and much more. One caveat of using H5P is that not all of the available content types meet the latest accessibility standards. To ensure your course materials meet the accessibility needs of all of your students, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the accessibility status of the modules you’re interested in, and contact us if you have any questions.
If you find that none of the freely available resources are a good fit for your course, there may still be options for saving students money. One solution is to consider if another, less expensive textbook (e.g. a competing text, or an international edition or previous edition of your current text) would offer your students the same high level of learning. Or you could consider placing your personal copy of the textbook on reserve at the library for those students who can’t afford their own copy.
Alternatively, there may be an electronic resource (e.g. an ebook, a primary source database) the library could purchase that would meet your pedagogical needs in place of a traditional textbook. Please contact us if you would like to discuss these options in more detail.
Faculty may also consider working with their colleagues to develop policies that recognize the issue of classroom affordability. For example, the Mechanical Engineering department at Lafayette has adopted a set of guidelines that supports consideration of OERs, more affordable editions of texts, and placing material on reserve at the library for students who can’t afford their own copy (Departmental Guidelines, 2018). This type of approach serves to spread awareness of affordability issues and encourage the use of OER materials, and sends a message to students that their financial situations are not taken for granted.