The Gauntlet / Peering under the hood of open textbooks - The Gauntlet

Peering under the hood of open textbooks

By Alexander Kim, December 4 2014 —

Textbooks make up a large portion of the cost of a university education. To fight rising prices, some faculty members want to use free online, open-source books known as open textbooks.

Math 211: Linear Methods I, has been using one since fall 2013.

Claude Laflamme is the course coordinator for Math 211 and the president of Lyryx Learning, the company that developed the open textbook he uses in class. He said the textbook and the homework system Lyryx developed have been well received by students.

“The open textbook, as edited by Lyryx, is actually of very good quality,” Laflamme said.

The homework platform can be used for free in computer labs on campus or purchased  for $40.

According to Lyryx Learning, over 3,200 students have used the textbook so far.

But not all university instructors are convinced open textbooks are suitable.

Joseph Ling, course coordinator for Math 249: Introductory Calculus, considered using an open textbook from Lyryx this year, but decided against it. He said the physical textbook he chose is better suited for the course.

The current Math 249 textbook costs $122.95 new at the University of Calgary Bookstore.

Ling said when he selects a textbook for a course, quality comes first.

“I don’t think that students would like it if we gave them a free book that didn’t work,” he said.

Despite this, Ling said calculus courses might use an open textbook in the future.

“I’m constantly looking at new textbooks. I’m [constantly] evaluating new products and Lyryx is constantly updating their textbooks, so I’m open to [using them],” he said.

Instructor Michael Cavers, who is currently teaching both Math 211 and Math 249, said the department needs to be more aware of open textbooks in order to get more courses to use them.

U of C associate head of math and statistics Jim Stallard said that instructors are aware of open textbooks, but there haven’t been any formal discussions about them in the department.

“It’s something that we’ll have to discuss sometime in the future,” he said.

But some students are keen to use them. First-year education and math major Erica Bayley said free open textbooks are more convenient than traditional textbooks.

“I like that it’s on the computer so you don’t have to carry around a heavy book and you can access it anywhere,” Bayley said.

The Alberta government has $2 million set aside to fund open textbook development projects. Students’ Union president Jarett Henry sits on the steering committee for the fund.

“[Open textbooks are] the way of the future. It’s just a matter of how fast we’re going to get there,” Henry said.

The steering committee will ask for grant proposals to develop different open educational resources. Henry said proposals will be accepted in late December, and the committee will start funding projects in March.

 



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