Embedded Digital Resources Are In, Traditional Textbooks Are Out At UMUC

During the 2015 WCET Annual Meeting, The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) received a WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award for their work in replacing all of their undergraduate course textbooks with Open Educational Resources.  Thank you to the team at UMUC for sharing the process they undertook to make this transition a reality to increase access while lowering costs for students. 

The Move Means Greater Access and Lower Costs for Students

When UMUC replaced 100 percent of its undergraduate publisher textbooks with no-cost digital resources in time for our 2015 fall term, it was the first time a major American university completed such a shift. And we’re on target for all of UMUC’s graduate classes to be textbook-free, as well, by fall 2016.

The first phase of our transition from publisher textbooks was actually completed more than a year ago in fall 2014, when about 40 percent of UMUC’s undergraduate courses began using open educational resources (OER) and other types of no-cost resources.  As Provost Marie Cini explains it there had been a real push for some time to create these first-rate no-cost resources that are written and designed by content experts and faculty, so that knowledge “isn’t locked away in expensive textbooks.”

The change, though, was prompted only in part by the rising cost of textbooks combined with opportunities now available to find and access peer-reviewed content and information in specialized databases and other digital sources.

In fact, the shift has succeeded in saving each UMUC undergraduate student hundreds of dollars a session—and potentially thousands over the course of the degree. And we estimate that the collective savings is in the millions for the more than 80,000 students who take classes at UMUC annually.

That’s great news, because we’re increasingly finding that the cost of textbooks is a barrier for our students, the majority of whom are working adults, active-duty military, reservists, dependent, and veterans trying to better themselves or get ahead in the work world—often while raising families.

UMUC’s Acting Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Thomas C. Bailey, who coordinated the undergraduate change-over, has confided that by the third or fourth week of class many students have told him they just couldn’t afford to buy the textbook, putting them at a disadvantage right from the start.

So aside from saving students money, the shift to no-cost embedded resources also helps UMUC fulfill its mission to ensure that each and every student has access—right from day one—to the materials they need to successfully complete every class.

No Playbook Existed

But turning our sizeable university into a textbook-free zone was no small task. We didn’t have a playbook to go by and, in many respects, we were flying the plane while putting it together.

Adapting materials to meet the needs and approach of each UMUC course took considerable thought and research. The effort of identifying digital resources was performed by teams in each discipline comprising a program chair, a faculty member or two, a librarian, and a member of the  Design Solutions office, all specializing  in course development.

Once resources were identified, they were released to the faculty who teach in that subject area so they could provide their own input. The work not only resulted in cost savings for students, but also gave everyone involved in the process a chance to rethink their approach to the courses and to draw on the wealth of available digital resources.  Participants told us that the beauty of UMUC’s approach was the coordination between all the different areas of expertise needed; it wasn’t just one person searching to see if they could find something.

In the end, perhaps a half dozen courses require copyrighted material that is unavailable at no cost. For the rest, we found a wealth of high quality materials out there that rival some of the best textbooks.

Faculty Input Key to the Success of OER implementation

One key to the ultimate success of Open Educational Resources will be to continually solicit faculty input to find out where the bugs are and how improvements can be made.

A critical measure of their success is student performance. We tested that in a head-to-head study completed in 2015 by a team led by Karen Hogan, who is a UMUC adjunct associate professor in Information Systems Management. The study, which compared courses offered with textbooks to those offered with embedded resources, found the learning outcomes were the same.

More recently, an independent research study published in the December 2015 issue of Journal of Computing in Higher Education, supports our findings that replacing textbooks with OER’s does not diminish performance.  In all, the Journal study involved more than 16,000 students—5,000 of them using OERs—enrolled in 15 different undergraduate courses at 10 institutions across the U.S. With only a couple of minor exceptions, findings indicated OER students performed as well, and sometimes better, than students relying on traditional textbooks.

Highlights from that study are detailed in a recent   magazine article, by business and technology writer Dian Schaffhauser.

At UMUC, we anticipate our move to no-cost digital resources embedded in courses will continue to provide a big pay-off. Our undergraduate students are enjoying immediate access to the resources they need to succeed in their classes … and they have saved millions. Our graduate-level students are poised to fully enjoy the same by fall 2016.

 

photo of Gilbert KlienGilbert Klein, Writer
UMUC Office of Communications

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