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New Access to Open-Licensed Materials Could Make a Difference for Students

By Kylie Gray

Open Textbook Library Logo


February 5, 2019

Drexel faculty now have greater access to open-licensed textbooks — and are already starting to implement them in the classroom.

Last summer, the Drexel University Libraries joined the Open Textbook Network (OTN), adding Drexel to a list of over 1,200 participating academic institutions nationwide. Along with a suite of resources, Drexel faculty and staff gained access to the Open Textbook Library, an online collection of faculty-reviewed, open-license textbooks that can be freely used, adapted and distributed.

Among the first to research the potential adoption of Open Textbook Library resources at Drexel was Lloyd Ackert, PhD, teaching professor of history. As an inaugural Drexel Libraries Faculty Fellow, he took on the task of gauging interest in the project, interviewing students and faculty about its potential benefits and challenges.

“Drexel students expect courses that match the Drexel style. Thus, faculty know to offer courses that reflect the entrepreneurial, applied, creative and real-world aspects of our environment here. The Open Textbook can help with that,” Ackert writes in a report to the University’s Executive Council.

Ackert’s report illustrates strong faculty interest in the use of open educational resources, with acknowledgement of the significant time and effort required to make the necessary course and material revisions.

“We recognize that new students are ‘digital natives’ and read and work differently. We want to build a sense of ‘life-long learning’ in our students, and the OTN supports this.”

In addition to offering innovative approaches to teaching, the use of open educational resources (OER) has been shown to positively affect a number of student success metrics.

“Ensuring all students have access to course materials on the first day of class helps level the academic playing field,” says Beth Ten Have, director for Library Academic Partnerships at Drexel. “A recent study from the University of Georgia found that students who were given an OER textbook earned significantly better grades than those who were required to use a traditional textbook. Students who have access to free materials are more likely to use them versus purchasing expensive textbooks. We’re finding OERs have more advantages than just cost-savings.”

Vito Gulla, MFA, adjunct professor of English, is one of three new Library Fellows who have taken on projects related to open educational resources at Drexel. He is currently working on a book on writing, which he will openly license and use in his composition courses.

“I like to understand texts from a subatomic level, and I haven’t found composition textbooks that have really done that,” he says, “As a fiction writer, I have a different perspective on writing that I would like to share with my students. I hope to help them make better decisions in their writing.”

Gulla plans to share what he learns about Drexel’s OERs with faculty members in his department, and has already made an informational video for that purpose. While he has long used course materials from diverse sources, the flexibility of open-licensed materials is part of what has motivated him to get involved.

“These types of resources are very malleable. Any faculty member can take an open textbook, use the pieces they like and make it their own,” he says.

The Drexel Libraries hosted their first series of open textbook workshops in December, and plan to host additional workshops during the spring term. In the meantime, interested faculty are invited to view a webinar version of the workshop and explore the growing list of OER resources curated by the Drexel Libraries.

A handful of faculty across the university have already formally adopted open textbooks or portions of textbooks in their classrooms. With growing awareness of housing and food insecurity on college campuses nationwide, open-sourced materials may find their way into more classrooms, with training and support.

“I am thrilled with the response we have seen from faculty so far,” says Larry Milliken, manager for Learning Partnerships and the project manager of the Libraries’ open textbook initiatives. “Many professors have acknowledged that adopting an open textbook is one way they can help lower students’ expenditures for required course readings, and we’re excited to see this initiative gain traction here at Drexel.”

For more information about OERs or the Libraries’ membership in the OTN, contact Larry Milliken, Manager for Learning Partnerships, at lpm27@drexel.edu.