In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.
BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.
The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.
For low-income students at community colleges, open educational resources might be an effective resource for keeping more students in school.
Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.
“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”
The high cost of traditional textbooks—an average of somewhere between $600 and $1,400 per student each year, according to studies by NACS and the College Board—not only impacts students’ ability to attend college but also their ability to continue and complete coursework. Open educational resources, including the free, peer-reviewed textbooks offered by OpenStax, eliminate cost barriers for students and allow unrestricted, immediate access to learning materials, increasing the likelihood for students to complete their courses successfully.
It’s been nearly a year since Cal State Fullerton math professor Alain Bourget made headlines by refusing to use a textbook that was authored by his boss in the university’s math department and cost students nearly $100 more than the book he wanted to use.
Bourget’s stand, and the reprimand he received for it, sparked a heated debate within the academic community on the ethics of professors authoring the books they assign their students. It also led to a new textbook policy adopted by the university’s academic senate in May.
But the early reviews from Bourget and others are that the new policy does little to address the issue.
“After all the noise the story made, it didn’t change CSUF or the math department,” Bourget said.
Added fellow math professor and Bourget supporter Tyler McMillan: “[The policy] is pretty useless in that it doesn’t have any protection for a minority opinion. It doesn’t address conflict of interest issues.”
Meanwhile, Bourget said his chances for a promotion this year might be jeopardized because of the letter of reprimand issued to him last year for not using the department-mandated book, which was written by math department chairman Stephen Goode and vice chairman Scott Annin. It remains the required text for the introductory linear algebra and differential equations class known as Math 250B.
Although not teaching the class this semester, Bourget reaffirmed his preference for a book written by MIT math legend Gilbert Strang.
Strang’s book costs about $90, while Goode and Annin’s is around $175, according to Amazon.com. The prices reflect the current editions of each book.