College of the Canyons hosted education experts from across the state Friday for a Zero Textbook Cost conference, where students, faculty and policymakers shared their experiences with textbooks and open educational resources.
Attendees representing the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, United States Department of Education, 43 community colleges, two California State University campuses and other educational groups packed into the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center for the Zero Textbook Cost Summit, “which underscores the importance of what we’re doing from a state perspective,” said James Glapa-Grossklag, COC’s dean of educational technology, learning resources and distance learning.
“When College of the Canyons surveyed students on textbook costs, two-thirds of our students told us that they don’t buy textbooks,” Glapa-Grossklag said. “Eighty-seven percent of those students told us that not buying their textbooks causes them concern and stress (and) 70 percent of our students tell us they pick classes based on textbooks.”
Members of the audience heard students speak about these concerns Friday, when a student panel shared that they’d take more classes, complete their programs at a higher rate and would learn more of the instruction material if they had access to open educational resources, or free learning materials that replace conventional textbooks, Glapa-Grossklag said.
These are the motivating reasons why COC is leading the effort to help faculty across the California Community Colleges system develop entire programs that use open source materials, said Hal Plotkin, a senior open policy fellow at Creative Commons and former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.
College of the Canyons is in a great position after winning a state competition because it can now provide technical support to all of the other community colleges in the state who want to make these resources available to their students, Plotkin said.
“At College of the Canyons during fall 2018, 300 sections of classes are using open source free materials as the primary material, (which) equates to roughly 20 percent of all of our class offerings this Fall,” Glapa-Grossklag said. Meaning an approximate 30 percent of students are benefiting from the program.
“Many of the (Open Educational Resources) look just like conventional textbooks,” Plotkin said. “You can read and display them online for free. They’ve been organized in the same way as textbooks (and) some of them look just like textbooks. In fact, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t a textbook just by looking at it online.”
The online resource materials can be videos, audio files, webinars or any other form that a person or organization uses to communicate knowledge and information, Plotkin said.
The students who prefer printed hard copies can print the materials in the bookstore for less than $3, Glapa-Grossklag said.
“In the course catalogs, students will see a designation for every course that uses these free open materials,” Plotkin said, “so it’s now possible for students to select their courses in ways that ensure that they are not going to have any nasty surprises relating to an unanticipated expense.”
Thanks to the recent push to decrease textbook usage, students have saved nearly $4 million, which made the open resource materials a pretty easy sell to faculty, Glapa-Grossklag said. “It’s very hard to say no to what you heard today,” especially when you consider the thousands of dollars circulating into the local economy, instead of the publishing company’s pockets.
The college began pushing open educational resources “in a very concentrated way” four years ago, Glapa-Grossklag said. Today, there are two programs — sociology and water systems technology — where it’s possible to receive an associates degree without ever buying a textbook.
The school hopes to add to that list within a year by making early childhood education another option, Glapa-Grossklag added. “Thanks to the consistent and strong support of President Van Hook, we are able to make the case very clearly that removing the cost barrier of commercial textbooks is central to the mission of the California Community Colleges and College of the Canyons.”
Zero cost textbook programs are already spreading across community colleges and four-year institutions, Plotkin said. “I think these practices that were pioneered here at College of the Canyons are becoming ubiquitous.”
“Future generations will be astonished to hear that there was a time when the only way that you could study chemistry was to go to the bookstore and buy a $300 book,” Plotkin said. “Nobody will believe that’s what we used to do, (because) those days are going to be history soon.”