Free e-textbooks every student can access and afford


Meg Brown Sica (left) stands with Abbey Dvork and Howard Marks on campus. in front of the Falcon sculpture. Sica Brown and Dvorak are advocates of the Open Textbook Initiative.

Myra Salcedo, Guest Writer

NOTE: This is an opinion piece.

Imagine (as a student or teacher) not toting three-pound tomes A.K.A (also known as) textbooks in backpacks around campus. Consider not fearing to forget to bring the textbook to class, losing it, or having it stolen. Worse than that are students who will try to go weeks into the course, even mid-terms or later without a textbook due to financial hardship. It then becomes a challenging question for the university instructor to decide if a student should be penalized for not being able to afford a $125 textbook. Trust me, I have been there. I have forgotten to bring a textbook to a class and I have dealt with students wanting to drop a course because a required textbook was so costly. In addition, I have lent personal editions of my own books to students who dropped out of class and kept my books. I hope that they get something out of them.

There is also a great instructor practice of providing non-textbook materials for the first few weeks of class until students can “afford” the books.

But on the upside, I have been fortunate enough to have been invited onto a faculty committee that was awarded an internal University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) Simple Access+Valuable E-textbook= (SAVE) grant to design and develop a textbook that would be free online to a second-semester English course. I wrote a brief chapter of this book. Students have been ecstatic about a free textbook. I was even more ecstatic to realize that students could be ready from the “get-go” with textbooks “in hand”, so to speak, from the first day of class. No more waiting or delaying assignments until books arrived in the mail, or worse, were “back-ordered.” No more trying to research alternative online sources in order to keep some students in class.

Enter Open Educational Resources (OER) and open textbooks, key online sources for free textbooks for students. As a faculty member, I would like to be paid for my work. However, if I can save even one student from dropping out of class due to the lack of affording a textbook, I will create that textbook, uncompensated. This is because I am a first-generation graduate. I left home at the age of sixteen when my family wanted me to work in retail rather than going to college. I made it. Now, I need to pay it forward. This does not mean that I will not write books for publication or compensation. It means that those books will not be textbooks. Equal education for everyone means affordable education. I am preparing to develop a free textbook, which I have been told is an arduous process. If it does not take away from my current classes, then I am ready. Some student organizations (at other universities) are offering stipends to teachers who write textbooks.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Meg Brown Sica, a Master’s of Library Information Services and Assistant Dean for Collections and Scholarly Communication at Colorado State University, who was brought to UTPB along with Abbey Dvorak, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Music Education and Music Therapy at the University of Kansas. Yes, both professionals have complex titles and both of them are involved in the non-profit Open Textbook Network (OTN) that is available through the Open Textbook Library (OTL), and its more than four-hundred titles to four-hundred national campuses, according to Brown Sica. The UTPB J. Conrad Dunagan Library brought the OER experts to the University Feb. 28 to speak to faculty and staff in the presentation “Staying Open: OERS and the Open Textbook Initiative.”

“Textbook costs have gone up much higher, tuition has risen and state funding has decreased while students are struggling,” Brown Sica said. “Sometimes the professor doesn’t know the students’ costs of textbooks.” Another problem, Brown Sica noted, “is that university instructors may not be informed of the quality of free open textbooks available, do not know where to find them and may question their time to do so.”

Dvorak agreed and stated that 2.4 million students in the United States suffer cost barriers to attending universities. Many are taking on student loans and debt and (when the cost of textbooks are high), “many students will take fewer classes,” Dvorak said.

There is a database of free textbooks for educators and students to draw from. It is supported by the Center for Open Education, which is part of the University of Minnesota. Their slogan is: “Make a difference in your students’ lives with free, openly-licensed textbooks.”

Nationally, this is Open Education Week.