Wednesday, November 29, 2023 News

Open Textbook Pilot Grantees Share Vision for Innovative Projects Across the U.S.

Open Education

The U.S. Department of Education has named six new recipients of federal Open Textbook Pilot grants for FY23. Project leaders across the country are gearing up to use the nearly $12 million in awards to expand the use of Open Educational Resources (OER).

This latest investment brings the total investment in the pilot program (since its inception in 2018) to $47 million. The funding is aimed at saving students money, improving college success, and making higher education more accessible through open textbooks.

As SPARC continues to advocate for FY24 renewal of funding, here’s a snapshot of the most recent round of grants. 


The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University received a $2.1 million grant to expand the use of an open-source, interactive textbook platform called Ximera (pronounced “chimera”). Most commonly used in teaching math, the platform was developed at OSU with support from the National Science Foundation. The new funding will focus on streamlining deployment of the system to better serve students, instructors, and authors.

“We want content experts to be able to create world-class online interactive content as if they were simply writing a paper,” said OSU’s Bart Snapp, associate professor of teaching-practice and co-lead of the project.

By streamlining the process to deploy online content, adding a gradebook, and ensuring ADA-compliance, the project seeks to allow anyone to easily create/use Ximera content with an ultimate goal of student savings and student success. The projected financial benefits are substantial: At the end of the three-year grant period in 2026, it is estimated that students will save $4 million to $10 million a year. With previous NSF funding of $180,000, OSU’s development of Ximera has already saved students across several institutions over $1 million a year beginning in 2019. 

Ximera allows authors to write documents in LATEX (a standard system for typesetting in the mathematical sciences) and post them as interactive activities online for students. All content is stored on GitHub, allowing for truly open content and version control. The plus for students is that they can study math anywhere, anytime because the information is easily accessible from any device.

Since the content is digital, the material can be constantly updated, said Snapp. Links to current math research papers or news stories can be inserted in the textbook so students can make concrete connections with their learning in the real world. If users see errors, they can submit requests for revisions. Snapp hopes the digital textbook will be used in both high school and college classrooms.

Also leading the effort at OSU with Snapp will be Jim Fowler, associate professor in mathematics. The university is partnering with the following institutions on the grant: Coastal Carolina University, Columbus State Community College, Ohio Dominican University, Lakeland Community College, New York City College of Technology, Southern State Community College, and University of Florida. 


Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges

This is the second time that Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges has received an Open Textbook Pilot grant. Like its award in 2021, this round of funding will be directed to making learning materials more accessible to students in its professional technical (ProfTech) programs.

Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), which represents 34 community and technical colleges, used its first $1.8 million grant to develop open textbooks for six of its most in-demand ProfTech programs: Criminal Justice, Machining, Hospitality, Early Childhood Education, Health Care, and Welding. (See SPARC’s earlier recipient profile.) 

With its FY23 grant of $2.1 million, it will create seven introductory-level open textbooks and ancillary materials: Introduction to Information Technology; Introduction to Forensic Science; Introduction to Computer-Aided Design; Health, Safety, and Nutrition; Principles of Computer Numerical Control Machining; Principles of Culinary Math; and Introduction to Periodontics. These textbooks will be used in the gateway courses required for multiple career pathways into high-demand careers in the state.

According to Boyoung Chae, policy associate of Open Education at SBCTC, who serves as principal investigator and project director on both grants, it was important to provide affordable materials to students enrolled in ProfTech programs, which have not yet been included in large-scale open textbooks projects. Many workforce students come from low-income families, who typically find textbooks costly—especially those in healthcare programs.

Once fully implemented statewide, the FY23 funding for the Open ProfTech project has the potential to save students $3 million a year. The books will be published on Pressbooks, with the potential for nationwide distribution in multiple file export formats. 

The project also plans to develop a suite of professional development resources to help faculty members easily adopt and integrate Open ProfTech textbooks into their courses. This will include a comprehensive user guide, a live online workshop series, and a repository of case studies and examples of successful integration. 

“By creating seven new open textbooks and a full package of ancillary materials for each book, we can provide professional-technical faculty members with a wealth of resources to enhance the quality of their teaching and better support financially challenged students on their pathway into the workforce,” Chae said. “This latest grant is a testament to the dedication and hard work of all the Open ProfTech project teams over the past two years.”


California State University, Bakersfield

Open textbook advocates at California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB), view OER as both a money saver and a way to improve student success. By increasing immediate access to course materials and expanding representation of diverse perspectives in course content, they are committed to reducing equity gaps and increasing graduation rates.

The federal award of $1.25 million will allow CSUB, along with its consortium members (Taft College, Antelope Valley College, Bakersfield College, and Porterville College) to create open textbooks for eight courses in its Curriculum Alignment Program in early childhood education.

Elaine Correa, professor and chair of the Department of Human Development, and Adolescent, and Family at CSUB, and Assistant Professor Alexander Reid will oversee the project: Pathways of Possibilities for Transforming Higher Education Curriculum Alignment (POP THE CAP).  

CSUB is a designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Minority Serving Institution (MSI) that is the only four-year public institution of higher education within a 100-mile radius. About half of students are low income and 60% are the first in their families to go to college. 

The student population we serve is often a point of pride, but it means that many of our students don’t know how to navigate through the education system—let alone pay for everything,” Correa said. “This Department of Education grant immediately means that we can create a pipeline from the community colleges where many of our transfer students come to us to complete their undergraduate degree.”

The project will provide training and support to institutional consortium members to create course materials that are high quality, accessible to all, and at no cost to students. A shared cloud will connect OER materials created through the pipeline project with open access repositories. Part of the emphasis will be on including broader perspectives in content beyond Euro-centric content. 

“This is something that is going to continue. We’re committed to the next level of open educational pedagogy practices, where we help our students to have their voices heard and seen,” Correa said. “Rather than disposable assignments, their work can come alive and be shared around the world. People can critique them, and students can get feedback to create a network for themselves to encourage them to move forward.”

Faculty will be invited to workshops on how to incorporate OER into their curriculum and deposit their work in repositories. The CSUB consortium will also conduct a mixed-methods research design study to evaluate the effectiveness of OER in meeting student learning outcomes.  

“We want to show data and evidence that this is a good practice,” Reid said of OER. “It’s not just affordable. It’s also effective and students are learning from it. We want to demonstrate through a research study that students still feel as if we are still hitting the student learning objectives.”

Correa and Reid along with faculty in their department in 2019 have already converted more than 14 classes to OER, saving students over $220,000. Their efforts were recognized by the CSU Chancellor’s Office Affordable Learning $olutions (AL$)  initiative. 

CSUB is finding broad support for open education, with the student government and faculty senate both passing resolutions in November in support of OER.


University of New Mexico 

The University of New Mexico plans to use its Open Textbook Pilot grant to create infrastructure among higher education institutions in the state and build a centralized OER Hub to connect faculty with OER professional development and support.

UNM, the flagship university and a Hispanic Service Institution (HSI), will lead the New Mexico Open Educational Resources Consortium Pilot Program (NMOER-CPP), along with two community colleges.

“OER is steadily growing in New Mexico,” said Jennifer Jordan, OER librarian and assistant professor at UNM. “People are still learning about open educational resources and about open licensing, but when they do find out they are receptive.”

The $2.1 million federal grant moves OER from a strategy among a “coalition of the willing” to a formal part of the university’s institutional strategy, said Elisha Allen, director of online strategies and academic technologies.

The state of New Mexico has encouraged residents to pursue higher education by recently beginning to cover the cost of tuition and fees for a training certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree at a state college or university. The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, however, does not cover classroom learning materials. 

A recent survey of University of New Mexico students revealed one-third of respondents struggled to pay for textbooks, underscoring the need for OER as an affordable alternative, Jordan said. 

UNM is in the midst of spending a one-year, $100,000 grant from the state for OER. The federal money will allow the NMOER-CPP team to expand the effort and work with the UNM Press to hire staff to create OER. 

In deciding which open textbooks to fund, Jordan said consideration is given to return on investment in the high enrollment courses and addressing needs of its student population. UNM is an R1 university with a hospital affiliation, so it has prioritized creating an open medical Spanish textbook. It also is working to diversify content, such as adding new perspectives to art history and world literature courses. 

“Justice, equity, accessibility, diversity, and inclusion are really important on our campus, and we’ve also talked about that in the OER grant program guidelines,” Jordan said. “It’s really kind of serendipitous how what the faculty are proposing to create is just exactly what we want to focus on.”

Allen added that the new federal grant will allow UNM to leverage its expertise in teaching and technology to strengthen collaborative relationships across institutions in the state.


Louisiana Board of Regents

If all goes as expected, students in Louisiana could save $6 million a year in textbook costs thanks to a FY23 federal Open Textbook Pilot grant. The Louisiana Board of Regents plans to use its $2.1 million to create OER for nearly 20 courses in career technical education (CTE).

The Building a Competitive Workforce program will be coordinated by LOUIS: The Louisiana Library Network, a 47-member consortium of all the state’s academic libraries and a program of the Louisiana Board of Regents. The OER courses will include interactive assessment elements and materials to give students needed foundational and industry-specific digital skills for in-demand CTE courses.

At first, during the pilot phase, students are projected to save $280,000. But with the annual enrollments of over 60,000 in the identified proposed courses, full adoption across systems has the potential to save students over $6 million annually.

This project will build on the experience of the FY20 Open Textbook Pilot grant in which LOUIS and the Board of Regents used nearly $2 million to create 25 dual enrollment OER courses, said Emily Frank, affordable learning program administrator for LOUIS.

“We learned so much in terms of project management, coordinating people from across the state, and building capacity,” Frank said. “We navigated challenges and successes and look forward to bringing those lessons learned into play with this grant.”

This project will involve collaboration between 2- and 4-year higher educational systems in Louisiana, secondary instructors engaged in CTE dual enrollment education, the library community, Pressbooks as an educational technology partner, and workforce representatives. It will include OER for health sciences and allied health courses, where there have been workforce shortages in the state and nationally, and students need digital skills to meet the labor market demand, Frank said.

Leveraging a cohort model for course development, the new grant relies on existing networks and partners to extend the OER development. All courses will be released using a Creative Commons license and included in the LOUIS OER Commons and Pressbook Directory for easy discoverability.

Frank anticipates the impacts of the grant will be both big and small. With the health sciences courses traditionally having some of the most expensive materials, open textbooks will remove a significant financial barrier for many students making higher education more equitable in the state. Also, by exposing faculty to OER, she hopes some will find a passion for the work and apply open to other courses.


San Antonio College

San Antonio College, a Hispanic Serving Institution with 19,000 students, will use its nearly $2 million grant to create OER for five introductory courses in government, history, English, psychology and math. For the grant, it formed The Alamo Colleges OER Consortium Project with Palo Alto College, St. Philip’s College, Northwest Vista College, and Northeast Lakeview College.

Beatrice Canales, a graduate of the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program, is the principal investigator on the winning proposal for the community college group. This was the second time SAC applied for the funding, using notes from the grant reviewer last year to modify the proposal for the FY23 submission.

“When we didn’t get [the funding initially], we didn’t think of it as a failure,” Canales said. “It was an opportunity to grow from [it].”

Beginning in January, the OER consortium will begin to develop the top five interdisciplinary courses that are part of the core in all degrees including the career and technical education high-wage, high-demand pathways. Canales said OER is often not as plentiful in CTE as it is in core academic courses.

“Our whole district is about making sure our students can work in the field that they desire. In the workforce classes, it’s even harder with licensing and accreditation issues for the departments to find the right books,” Canales said. “Sometimes they have to create their own because they aren’t updated often.”

Canales said textbook affordability is important to SAC’s population. Many are working students who need wrap-around services and face choices to pay for food, gas or books.

The project aims to serve more than 10,000 students, and save them approximately $2.2 million annually. The colleges will also track student performance (grades and completion) with OER compared to traditional texts.

Faculty members are expected to benefit from the creation of a campus repository for OER curriculum. Canales said it can be intimidating for instructors to look online for OER but they might be more likely to trust and adopt the work of a fellow colleague preserved in a local repository. “Also, it’s a way for us to be in the global field, and showcase the work of our faculty and staff,” Canales said. 


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