The program incentivizes Rutgers faculty to use free or low-cost learning materials that save students money

More faculty than ever before are participating in a program through the Rutgers University Libraries to provide open and affordable textbooks for the fall.

The initiative is estimated to be able to save over 16,400 students a total of more than $2.1 million in the cost of textbooks and other course materials over the next year.

The Open and Affordable Textbooks (OAT) program, administered by the libraries, provides $1,000 awards to Rutgers faculty who modify their courses to use free or low-cost learning materials instead of traditional textbooks. To date, it has brought an estimated savings of over $5.7 million to students universitywide. 

The libraries issued 42 OAT awards this year, more than double the amount from previous cycles.

“With the ongoing pandemic putting financial pressures on so many families, it is more important than ever to do what we can to keep our students’ education affordable,” said Krisellen Maloney, vice president for information services and university librarian. “I’m proud that the Libraries can offer a program like OAT that not only helps relieve financial burdens for our students but can also help foster their academic success.” 

Research has found that using open educational resources, such as those incentivized by the OAT program, leads to significantly improved student outcomes like higher grades and lower withdrawal rates. But it also provides benefits to professors by allowing them to easily customize their teaching materials to match their curriculum. 

Open and affordable text books
The program is estimated to be able to save over 16,400 students a total of more than $2.1 million in the cost of textbooks and other course materials over the next year.

One of the OAT awardees, assistant teaching professor in the Division of Life Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick Anne Keating, is part of a team of biology instructors who will replace their standard textbook, Campbell Biology, with an open-source edition hosted on OpenStax, a platform that provides access to Creative Commons-licensed textbooks. Despite being authored by experts and peer reviewed like a traditional book, students can access the textbook in its entirety online for free. 

“I think it is our responsibility to make use of these resources,” said Keating. “If we can offer a student a free textbook that is robust, accessible and easy to use – instead of expecting them to pay over $100 – I think it’d be irresponsible for us not to consider using it.”

Sara Plummer, assistant director of the baccalaureate social work program for the School of Social Work, plans to modify the school’s "Introduction to Social Work" course to focus more on social justice through an anti-racist lens. By incorporating multimedia resources such as articles, podcasts and social media posts into the curriculum, she hopes to expose students to the perspectives of more Black and Latinx social work leaders – combating what she describes as the “whitewashing” of social work’s history – while also saving them money.

“Students come to me as their adviser and tell me, ‘I don’t have money for books,’ or ‘My car broke down, and I don’t have money to fix it,’” said Plummer. “Making a student pay $130 for a textbook is steeped in the assumption that everyone has $130 to spend. So, I feel that using an open resource is essentially social justice.”

Karen Chaffee, associate teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry at the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark, will use her award to hire a student assistant who, under her supervision, will develop a pool of pre-chapter quiz questions for use in "General Chemistry" courses. This approach eliminates the need for students to purchase costly access codes to the question banks offered by commercial publishers and offers Chaffee more control over the quiz content.

“With this quiz program, we can emphasize the material that we have traditionally taught,” Chaffee explained. “This allows us to align our quizzes more closely to the syllabus so that our students are better prepared.”

Faculty members who incorporate library-licensed resources, materials developed themselves or open educational resources like open access textbooks can apply for OAT awards. The next round of applications is scheduled to open in January 2021.