The following account is a synopsis of a description by Dr. Steve Acker, Research Director of eTextOhio/Digital Bookshelf, of the Ohio Digital Bookshelf project from a webinar produced by the FIPSE Open Textbooks project (Grant # P116Y090040 for 2009-2011) on November 9, 2010.
With the goal of producing 230,000 new graduates in the next 10 years and earning a good return on the investment that will require, Ohio has incorporated into its higher education strategic plan three strategies that, together, are intended to reduce costs for students while improving learning outcomes:
Textbook affordability is a key part of reducing costs. The textbook is associated with improved learning outcomes as well, in that it provides students with academic preparation and engagement necessary for enrollment, retention, and graduation of those students. To these ends, Ohio has embarked on the Ohio Digital Bookshelf project.
Since autumn of 2010, the state has been negotiating with traditional commercial publishers to bring prices down in the short term. The majority of the market for educational materials is with these publishers and a small increment of change can produce a substantial impact. The course with the greatest enrollment among the state’s 66 colleges and universities is introductory psychology with 70,000 students each year. The project found a way to offer students a digital version of a textbook selected by the faculty member. Their survey identified the 23 popular introductory psychology textbooks that were offered by the five publishers Cengage, McGraw- Hill, Worth, Wiley, and Pearson. They all agreed to allow the project to promote a digital version of their textbook at a price up to 70% off the list price of the new print edition. In return, the project offered a Digital Pioneers Workshop for faculty new to digital materials and a link directly from the syllabus in which the text was being used to the text through the digital bookshelf. This effort reached 49,564 students in 23 participating institutions during the first semester of its implementation.
Ohio has initiated two programs that support open educational resources, the Faculty Innovator Program and the Textbook Affordability Grants. The Faculty Innovator Award Program is entering its third year with an annual allocation of $10,000. Each of the awards is approximately $1,000, but the recognition is the main driver of the program. Award winners come to Columbus, the state capital, to attend a reception and meal with the Chancellor, receive the award in a ceremony that receives considerable press coverage, and are recognized on the state website as faculty who have made real contributions to Ohio students and the affordability of their education. Carl Stitz and Jeff Zeager were among those awarded the prize in 2010 for their College Algebra open textbook. The efficiency of the Faculty Innovator Program lies in the fact that it rewards completed activity.
The other program, the Textbook Affordability Grants, funds projects from very near the start. The program was designed to fund five projects with about $50,000 each, but only four have been selected for funding as of this writing. Teams of at least 15 faculty representing at least three independent campuses develop, build, and package a complete set of learning materials for a course with high quality content. For each program, the statewide learning objectives of the course were defined in Ohio’s Transfer Assistance Guidelines (TAG). Funds are released at three different times in the production cycle: $20,000 at the start, $15,000 after the first iteration has been reviewed by students, and after revisions have been made, the materials tested in classes and revised again and the course is offered for the third time, the final $15,000 is released. There is no cost to Ohio students for using these materials.
A particular challenge has been the development of awareness among faculty across the Ohio campuses of the availability of these materials and the encouragement of their use. The remaining $50,000 for the program that was not funded will be used to develop that awareness and promote the use of the materials with workshops and materials.
The return on investment for replacing traditional textbooks with the new materials is already positive with only 23 campuses participating. The cost of replacement was calculated by multiplying the cost of the new text by the number of students taking the course by 0.4 because students have several less expensive ways to obtain the material besides buying a new textbook. As usage increases, the return is expected to be quite significant.
In three to four years, students will go to the bookshelf for modularly organized material suited to their characteristics, the personal learning environment. Building learning objects around learning objectives that are common to the course taught on different campuses to different student groups, a framework can be assembled that allows for the accommodation of different learning preferences, cultural contexts, and readiness levels.
Publishers raise prices every year because they have to capture revenue from a reduced number of students who buy new books. Bookstores, which typically earn more money on the used cycle than the new books, promotes used over new, further reducing the revenue flowing to the publisher. Students try to find the lowest cost resource that they can use for most courses. So, by all acting in their own self interest, these players all contribute to the rising cost of textbooks.