U creates Open Academics textbook catalog to reduce student costs

Contacts: Dave Ernst, College of Education and Human Development, dernst@umn.edu, (612) 624-2760
Kristin Anderson, University News Service, kma@umn.edu, (612) 624-1690

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/23/2012) —In an effort to reduce higher education costs for students, one college at the University of Minnesota announced today that it has created a tool to help faculty find more affordable textbook options. The Open Academics textbook catalog [http://open.umn.edu], created in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), is a searchable online catalog of “open textbooks” that will be reviewed by U of M faculty.

Open textbooks are published under a license that enables students to get free or low-cost versions of their textbooks online, electronically, or in print. The Open Academics catalog is the first of its kind hosted at a major research institution. It is available to faculty worldwide.

“The University of Minnesota should be a leader in enabling faculty and students to benefit from open content and electronic textbook options,” said Provost Karen Hanson. “This CEHD initiative is one of a number of our initiatives in e-learning that will help students obtain a high-quality education that is also affordable.”

College students will spend an average of $1,168 on course materials for 2011-2012. Concerns over textbook costs have fueled a growing movement toward open textbooks and other open educational resources. The Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) found that using open textbooks saves students 80 percent on average over traditional textbooks. The Open Academics textbook catalog empowers faculty to bring those savings to U of M students.

“High textbook costs are one of the many factors that are contributing to the increasing financial burden that students are facing,” said Lizzy Shay, U of M undergraduate student body president. “Affordable open textbooks would go a long way in relieving that burden.”

The catalog currently lists 84 open textbooks that are in use in classrooms across the country. Over the next year, CEHD will work with U of M faculty to review the texts in this collection, making it easier for users to judge textbook quality. CEHD will support faculty who choose to review and adopt open textbooks with $500-$1,000 stipends.

“Faculty share student concerns about high textbook costs and are willing to consider high-quality, affordable alternatives like open textbooks,” said CEHD associate professor Irene Duranczyk. “The Open Academics textbook catalog makes it easier by collecting the best peer-reviewed open textbooks in one place.”

Nine CEHD faculty members are already exploring open textbooks through the catalog. Replacing their current course materials with open textbooks will potentially save over $100,000 in textbook costs next year.

The catalog is the latest of several noteworthy educational technology programs at the University of Minnesota. All incoming freshmen in CEHD receive iPads, which will enable students to use the less expensive and free digital formats of open textbooks. The U of M is also participating in a multi-university e-textbook pilot program, which, in selected courses, offers e-books at a significantly lower cost.