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Textbooks and open educational resources

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’ve spent some time on this blog talking about how scientists communicate with each other – largely through scientific journal articles in scholarly journals. But in order for our civilization to thrive, basic scientific concepts need to be communicated to folks without advanced degrees in science.

The vast majority of folks get their information about scientific concepts and processes from boring, expensive textbooks in school or at University.

In the United States and other western nations, university students are asked to purchase the textbooks selected by their professors, and these costs for these materials are increasing quickly. As a result, more and more students don’t purchase the textbook at all.  This affects how prepared students are when they come to class, and it leaves students without a basic reference text for the concepts their teachers are introducing in class.

To solve this problem, educators are turning to open educational resources available via the web.

Open Educational Resources Logo

Open educational resources may include websites, videos, tutorials or entire textbooks that are available for anyone to use.  Importantly, they are also licensed in ways that allow educators to re-use, edit, and re-distribute them as they see fit (unlike many MOOCs, which are open for students to enroll, but the content cannot generally be reused and redistributed).

Probably the biggest challenge for faculty in adopting these resources is the time needed to find appropriate materials, alter them as needed, and put them together into a package that students easily follow along with as a course progresses.  Traditional, typically high-cost textbooks make all of this really easy on already overworked faculty.

The simplest way to switch to open educational resources would be to adopt an open textbook.  It’s just like a regular textbook, but with greater accessibility and less cost.  There are many sites that host open textbooks, including these:

If you’ve got a bit of time, faculty can pull together small pieces of writing or videos on distinct topics and group them into a sequence for student use.  There are many sites that host collections of open educational resources, and this becomes a great opportunity for science faculty to incorporate blogs (like those on this network) and scholarly open access articles. Resources better known for silly cats (YouTube) or detailed lists of Star Trek races (Wikipedia) can be useful educational tools.  Some popular destinations for tutorials, educational videos and other open educational resources include:

As professional finders-of-information, librarians can be a great resource for faculty trying to adopt open educational resources to supplement their textbooks or to drop the high-cost textbook altogether. Just yesterday, I spent the afternoon tracking down some open textbook options for a professor to use in an introductory chemistry course. I’m not a chemist, but I was able to find some possibilities and provide commentary about basic features.

It took the open access movement time to get momentum going, and it seems as though the open educational resources movement is just getting started.

Have you incorporated open educational resources into your class? Have you replaced traditional textbooks?  What have been your biggest challenges?

 

Bonnie Swoger About the Author: Bonnie J. M. Swoger is a Science and Technology Librarian at a small public undergraduate institution in upstate New York, SUNY Geneseo. She teaches students about the science literature, helps faculty and students with library research questions and leads library assessment efforts. She has a BS in Geology from St. Lawrence University, an MS in Geology from Kent State University and an MLS from the University at Buffalo. She would love to have some free time in which to indulge in hobbies. She blogs at the Undergraduate Science Librarian. Follow on Twitter @bonnieswoger.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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