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Washington State University Office of the Provost

Affordable Learning Grants save students thousands

Washington State University faculty members are passing on more than $250,000 in savings to WSU students this fall, using funds from five Affordable Learning Grants and another funded through Academic Outreach and Innovation to develop open-source classroom materials, or OERs.

The University funded the grants over the summer, and the faculty members worked to develop their respective education resources. Most developed their own online textbooks building on existing open-source material. Because open-source OERs are licensed for free distribution and reuse, they allow professors like this summer’s grant recipients to customize course materials for their own classrooms. While the work of locating, adapting, and developing OERs can be time-consuming, the grant recipients found it rewarding on a number of levels. Here’s a closer look at their summer projects:

Carrie Cuttler found the perfect textbook for her Experimental Methods in Psychology course last fall. However, the price tag of $150 meant some of

Carrie Cutler

her students could not afford to buy it. She found out about OERs shortly thereafter and last spring, landed a grant to fund the transition to an online textbook. She found a source on OpenStax and found revisions from a former colleague at her alma mater – the University of British Columbia. Her final product came together in the Pressbooks format supported by WSU staff, and Cuttler’s students are excited.

“Many of them came up to me after the first class and said, ‘Thank you,’” Cuttler says. “They really like the online format, being able to access it from their phone or iPad, and they like that the text is really an extension of the lecture.”

Cuttler says she based the textbook on the course, which the students greatly appreciate. Her class currently has about 85 students, but she says there may be closer to 175 in her spring course. The savings are significant, which Cuttler says makes the hard work that went into the project worthwhile.

Lee Daffin had negotiated with his textbook’s publisher for lower prices for years, but ultimately, he empathized with students who still had trouble affording books. He developed his own textbook from scratch for Psychology 328, a WSU Global Campus course. The

Lee Daffin

writing process was intensive, but not overwhelming for Daffin, who has written several traditional textbooks. He’s excited about the outcome, which allows students to download the text for free, interact in real time and provide feedback that can be valuable for edits and re-writes.

“I think WSU can take the lead on this,” Daffin says. “I’m gung-ho about it, and it’s a huge benefit for students. For online students, it’s especially important. They don’t have to wait to get their books. It solves a big issue. We can get student feedback and make real-time adjustments.”

Joy Egbert and Susan Skavdahl teach Educational Technology to future teachers, and they’re now making it much more affordable for their students.

Joy Egbert

Egbert is an experienced author, having written more than 15 books. She ventured into the OER realm by gathering resources and adapting materials to best fit the needs of her course. Skavdahl created a teacher tool box for websites and mobile apps, and re-wrote the instructors guide for the course.

Egbert said she was skeptical, but through the process of developing her own OERs, she’s become a believer.

“I’ve known about OERs, but I had the mindset that anything for free probably isn’t good,” Egbert says. “Now after developing the materials, I get it.”

Students are getting a quality, interactive textbook and can provide instantaneous feedback to the author. The review process is ongoing, which is another advantage

Suzy Skavdahl

over traditional textbooks.

Egbert is grateful for WSU’s commitment to OERs and the expertise of the support team.

“Theron Desrosier (Academic Outreach and Innovation) and Talea Anderson (WSU Libraries) were invaluable in sharing their expertise,” she says. “The support we received was fabulous.”

Myiah Hutchens took the OER plunge, unveiling her new text for a class of 330 students in Communications 101. She chose to house her textbook in Perusall, a platform originally developed by faculty members at Harvard University to encourage greater engagement with classroom texts. The online format in Perusall allows student groups of 20 to

Myiah Hutchens

interact within the text, making the reading more interesting, and allowing ideas to be shared freely outside the classroom. Hutchens can also see where students have questions about the text and adjust her lectures accordingly.

She said the savings for students, along with the interactive format convinced her the time spent over the summer would be worth it.

“I think most professors do this type of work that they’re not compensated for anyway. It’s more work than normal, but it wasn’t terrible,” Hutchens says. “And I was redesigning the course anyway, so it was a good time to make the switch.

“I’ve been frustrated with the textbook pricing for a while. I just had to break out of the mindset of using traditional textbooks.”

Babu John Mariadoss had tried several approaches to reduce classroom costs for students in his Principles of Marketing course, which he is teaching online this semester. But despite his efforts, the textbook still cost students more than $250. This semester, the students will pay nothing.

Babu John Mariadoss

“I knew there were alternatives to the traditional textbook, but it’s about the quality too,” Mariadoss says. “When I saw the (Affordable Learning Grant) opportunity, I thought, ‘let’s go for it.’ I began adapting material and moving them into the online space.”

Mariadoss is pleased with the result, which he’ll unveil to students next month in his seven-week course. He’s also excited about the ability to easily update and upgrade the content through WSU’s Pressbooks—a website based on WordPress that allows instructors to format and share texts with students. Mariadoss encourages faculty members to explore the option of OERs by utilizing the expertise of WSU staff.

“I’ve learned a lot in the process,” Mariadoss says. “I did not think some of the things I wanted were possible, but the support that we have made it possible.”

Here are rough estimates of savings provided to WSU Pullman students through the Affordable Learning Grants:

Course Estimated savings/term (based on enrollment and cost averages
Com 101 $47,000.00
Mktg 360 $169,050.00
Psych 312 $26,550.00
Psych 328 $17,000.00
T and L 445 $10,000
TOTAL  $269,600.00

For more information on open education resources, and WSU’s ongoing initiatives to reduce classroom costs, visit teach.wsu.edu/oer.

For more information:

If you have questions about Affordable Learning Grants, or open education resources at WSU, email to oer@wsu.edu.

Washington State University