Open textbooks ‘an easy choice’ for Kwantlen professor

SURREY — How many struggling students do you think avoid buying pricey textbooks, and take a hit for it academically, every year?

According to Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, a psychology professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, it’s more than half. That’s why he’s behind a movement to provide free access to Open Textbooks, a service by BCcampus that lets the top-40 most enrolled post-secondary courses provide required texts for little to no cost.

"In general, we know that about 65 per cent of students choose not to purchase a textbook for at least one of their undergraduate courses because of cost – that’s twothirds. Thirty-five per cent take fewer courses because of textbook costs and 23 per cent regularly go without texts because of cost. So, it’s a real problem with a human face," Jhangiani told the Now.

The open textbooks, which can be found online at BCcampus.ca or on a class-shared site such as Moodle where the professor may choose to share the file, can be accessed in various formats. Students and instructors can download the material and use them on tablets, smartphones, on computers and even opt to have the books printed and bound for about $13.

With some introductory course textbooks coming with a price tag of $150 to $200, it’s obvious why some students might avoid taking the financial hit — especially when they’re struggling to pay rent and other bills.

"Unlike traditional textbooks, when students feel the pinch, they’re spending around $1,500 a year on textbooks, they feel the need to recoup some of the costs by reselling them at the end of the semester," he said, "and you don’t get a whole lot."

In fact, even when students buy a digital copy of the text from the publisher to save a little cash, the licenses expire after just six months and can’t be re-sold. In the end, it makes those materials more expensive.

"There’s really no contest in that sense, and what I find is, as I’ve been adopting this for a year and a half now, many of them (students) choose to print some of the pages at home, some just use the digital, but what they really seem to like is that they can access it in all formats," Jhangiani admitted.

"Some talk about how they don’t feel the need to lug the heavy textbook around campus, and they can read it on their iPhone on the bus, so they’ve got all formats."

Beyond the ease of access to their textbooks, studies have found there’s a positive difference in exam and course performance when using an open textbook. Jhiangiani said he’s witnessed evidence of that in his own courses.

"Since I’ve been adopting open textbooks, I’ve certainly seen the impact of it show up on my official course evaluations. One student wrote last semester, ‘I would not have bought the text for this course because it’s an elective. I would have possibly walked away with a C, now it looks like I’m going to get an A-minus.’"

The psychology professor noted the feedback was anonymous, and the student "had nothing to gain by lying." He also said students taking elective courses are the ones most likely not to purchase a textbook because they’re more worried about their majors.

Without studying the text, however, "they’re starting off severely disadvantaged, so I think it really is an interesting point in higher education," he said.

Currently, Jhangiani is one of more than 50 faculty members across the province touting the use of open textbooks, and he hopes to see that number grow. The problem is some instructors just don’t know about the program.

That may change with the Open Textbook Summit that will take place on May 28 and 29 in Vancouver this year, where Jhangiani will be speaking.

So far, students in B.C. have saved a collective $700,000 from using open textbooks – but the benefits don’t extend only to undergrads. Each open textbook comes with a Creative Commons licence, so instructors can change and edit course materials to fit within their curriculums.

"I would absolutely say that I would rather have all of my students have access to a great book rather than have half of them have access to what is definitely the best book. It’s an easy choice for me," Jhangiani concluded.

For more information about the Open Textbook Summit, visit Open.bccampus.ca.

kalexandra@thenownewspaper.com

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