Open textbook use on the rise at UofS

More than 2,700 students taking 20 courses in the Colleges of Agriculture and Bioresources, Arts and Science, Edwards School of Business, the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine will avoid the cost of buying a traditional textbook thanks to instructors choosing to use open textbooks.

With a 184 per cent increase in the use of free, digital open textbooks over last year, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is saving students about $275,000 in textbook costs this year.

"Increasing our use of open textbooks is an important initiative that speaks to our broader goals of reducing costs for students and using innovative teaching tools," said Patti McDougall, U of S vice-provost of teaching and learning. "These texts reduce costs for students, give instructors more control over their instructional resources and improve learning outcomes for students. It’s a win-win for everyone."

Sarah Firby, currently in her second year at the Edwards School of Business, is one student benefitting from the use of open textbooks.

"Open textbooks relieve the stress and pressure on students to save money and keep track of a hardcopy book," said Firby.

Open textbooks are licensed under an open copyright license, and made available online to be freely used by everyone. These texts are available for viewing on a computer, smartphone or tablet via the internet or as a document that can be downloaded for offline viewing or printing. Traditionally published textbooks are produced under closed copyright, meaning they cannot be shared, re-used or re-purposed. They are usually costly, with new editions published frequently, making older texts quickly out of date.

Noreen Mahoney, associate dean of students and degree programs in the Edwards School of Business, chose to introduce open textbooks last year and is doing so again this academic year.

"My colleague and I were thrilled to introduce an open textbook to our skills for academic success course," said Mahoney. "The material presented is broad and provides information on topics such as learning styles, study skills, personal health, finances, writing, etc., and we want all students everywhere to benefit from this information."

Heather Ross, an education developer at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, has worked with others across campus to support instructors who wish to use open textbooks. Ross said open textbooks are the way of the future and is confident the quality is often equal to that of traditionally published textbooks, if not higher, given the option for instructors to customize the resource for their students’ needs.

"There is essentially no difference in the instructors’ vetting process carried out for open textbooks, compared to commercially published textbooks," said Ross. "Open textbooks often provide the same quality and variety of content as commercially available ones, with the additional advantage that open textbooks may be customized by instructors."

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