An open textbook project in the Edwards School of Business is estimated to have collectively saved students $34,000.

Opening the door to student savings

When Noreen Mahoney and Brooke Klassen told their first-year class they would be using an open textbook, they did not expect the students to respond with a rousing cheer.

By HenryTye Glazebrook

Mahoney and Klassen—associate dean, students and degree programs, and director, undergraduate and certificate programs, respectively, at Edwards School of Business— said the reaction was likely due to savings on textbooks.

According to their estimate—which places an approximate cost of $100 per book for each of the 340 students enrolled in Comm 119: Business Competencies—the class saved students a combined total of $34,000.

"What we're hearing from students is that it's such a relief for them not to have to buy another textbook, especially when a lot of material at the intro level is very similar," Klassen added.

Open textbooks are a new frontier in academics, with Mahoney and Klassen among those who are pioneering their use at the U of S. Taking its name from the open copyright license they are placed under, open textbooks allow free use for educators, students and members of the public without losing the quality that comes with peer-reviewed work.

The duo was drawn to open textbooks in part because the concept allows for much greater control over teaching materials.

Though there are a number of similar projects happening on campus, Mahoney and Klassen's open textbook is one of only three in development that have been officially endorsed and funded by the U of S.

Because these books are published with less restrictive licensing, the two were able to tailor their text to perfectly fit their course—drawing from multiple sources and including only material that is wholly relevant in an order of their choosing.

"When you're in the classroom, it's so nice to have that authenticity where you feel like you're actually giving them exactly what you want to and not having to skew it based on the materials that have been provided," Klassen said.

"It's really a student-centred focus," Mahoney added.

Heather Ross, an instructional design specialist for the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, echoed this emphasis on success, stressing the ripple effect that a thinner wallet can have on students.

"They take fewer courses, they drop courses, they do poorly in courses—all because they go without the textbook because they're waiting for financial aid to kick in or for the next paycheque. It's hurting them academically," she said.

Ross works to support and improve learning on campus, and to that end has been aiding faculty interested in open textbooks in finding resources to work with, revealing the ins and outs of Creative Commons licensing and helping with integration into courses.

In 2014, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta to lead a united charge toward implementing open textbooks on a larger scale in Canada. Thus far, Ross said the shared materials and experiences from the provinces' combined efforts have been indispensable.

"This networking is proving so valuable for us because we're building on their lessons, we're building on their resources—and they're getting excited because we're creating stuff here that they don't have," Ross said.

"That's the beauty of open. It's not a competition; it's collaboration."

Mahoney and Klassen are still refining their textbook according to student feedback. Meanwhile, it has already been adopted by two more instructors in Edwards and is being considered for a course in the College of Arts and Science—in a version, naturally, that will be updated for the new audience.

"Frankly, we're still learning. We're still adapting and moving forward, but it will only get better now," Mahoney said. "Campus- wide, I think a movement has started."