Open Educational Resource program aims to increase textbook affordability for students

A new program from UI Libraries motivates faculty to provide open-source, free resources for students to decrease the amount they spend on textbooks.


Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

A new initiative from University of Iowa Libraries could help reduce textbook costs by funding an Open Educational Resources library called OpenHawks, which will  provide an open-source alternative to textbooks or other course materials. 

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research resources that are free to access and are often licensed under creative commons.

The program receives $75,000 in funding as a three-year pilot project, with $25,000 coming from University of Iowa Student Government and $50,000 coming from the Office of the Provost, according to UISG Senate Bill 34. Faculty can apply for funding to redesign aspects of their courses to use open resources, said Tristan Schmidt, the UISG director of academic affairs. 

RELATED: ICON Direct saves UI students money on textbooks

According to the UI’s estimated expenses, students at the University of Iowa can expect to spend $950 a year on textbooks and supplies on top of the costs of tuition and housing. Schmidt said the open-resources program could save students up to $225,000 by the end of its second year.   

“If an instructor redesigns a whole course, that’s a whole textbook a student doesn’t have to buy, a homework solution a student doesn’t have to buy. But it ranges from a textbook to a whole entire course an instructor can design,” Schmidt said. “This saves students so much money in so many different ways. We had a great step with ICON direct — this goes another step further in saving student dollars.” 

Mahrya Burnett, scholarly communications librarian for the UI Libraries, said that Open Educational Resources can be used in a variety of ways by instructors. 

“Professors can engage … in lots of different ways. They can use existing open textbooks as-is, edit them to suit their purposes, or create content from scratch,” Burnett said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “They can use or create open supplementary materials, such as videos, assessment tools, lab books, or other research material. Because [open resources] are openly licensed, there are few restrictions on what they can do with it.”

Professors would be provided with funding to transition parts of their courses, or redesign entire courses, to use the material. Schmidt said faculty will be provided with paid time to redesign as much of a course as they feel they are able. Instructors can simply redesign homework solutions or go as far as hiring a graduate assistant to redesign an entire course. 

“[Faculty] get paid time, they can hire graduate assistants, do whatever they need with the funding to make sure they fall within the range of [open resources] that the UI Libraries have provided,” Schmidt said. “There’s a multitude of options for instructors, so if they don’t have the time or energy to redesign a whole course, they can make the homework solutions applicable to their classroom.”

UISG Sen. Guowei Qi said such resource programs have had success at other institutions. 

“Other institutions — Kansas State, Iowa State — already have grant program like this,” Qi said. “They’ve had a lot of examples of courses redesigned that have saved students a lot of money of on textbooks.”

Burnett said open resources have additional benefits for students beyond cost savings. 

“Besides the cost savings, recent studies have shown [open resources] to be effective for student learning, as well,” Burnett said. “Because more students have access to the course materials from Day 1 of the course, their performance in the class is improved.”