An Alternative to Open Source Textbooks

Monica Rysavy and Russell Michalak of Goldey-Beacom College (GBC) gave a presentation at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, on their library textbook program. Rather than using open-source textbooks, GBC partnered with a textbook rental college to reduce students’ textbook costs.

Undergraduate students most used the search feature. Graduate students most used the highlight feature.
Adapted from “An Alternative to Open Source Textbooks: A Case Study of a Library Spearheading a Campaign to Reduce Students’ Textbook Costs by Partnering with a Textbook Rental Company” by Monica Rysavy and Russell Michalak.

Goldey-Beacom College (GBC) wanted to reduce costs for students because, on average, textbooks cost a single student in the United States $1,200 a year. Monica and Russell took on the challenge of reducing costs. Offering texts through the library was decidedly not feasible due to material costs and budget. Next they looked at Open Educational Resources (OER) but this approach was not feasible because the majority of GBC’s faculty are adjunct. Their next step to find a solution was to reach out to a textbook rental company — Chegg.

Chegg and GBC mutually agreed to pilot an eTextbook program in the spring of 2018 because many GBC students and faculty were already aware of Chegg. In addition, Chegg is publisher agnostic.

The pilot program took place for the Spring 2018 semester, with a sampling of college courses, including undergraduate and graduate courses. 335 students participated in the pilot. The three parts of the pilot program were:

  • Redemption of codes: They worked with the college Office of Information Technology for the textbook codes to display in the Learning Management System (LMS). It was underscored to the students that these codes would only work for them and if their code was lost or someone else used them a replacement would not be available.
  • Training: LibGuides were developed to explain the process for faculty and students, on how to access, then use and interact with the eTextbooks. The program required face-to-face training for participating faculty and offered optional face-to-face in class training sessions depending upon faculty request.
  • Feedback: Surveys were sent out before, during, and after the pilot. The before survey asked about prior experience with using eTextbooks and perception. The surveys during the pilot were sent out weekly and asked only three questions about how it’s going. The post pilot survey asked for their overall experiences.

The results of the pilot program was deemed a success! 200 of the 335 students viewed their eTextbook during the program which is 59.7%. This was a higher number than expected, as many students don’t use their textbooks.

Participation by division was roughly even with 47.8% undergraduates and 52.2% graduates. There was a bigger division among gender with 60.8% being female and 39.2% as male.

A few post-program comments were discouraging, such as one person who said they did not want to use an eTextbook and didn’t like it, but at the end used it more than expected.

The eTextbooks were accessed more times using a desktop browser versus a mobile device such as a phone or tablet, particularly with the undergraduate student population. For the total number of minutes overall the graduate students spend more time with their eTextbooks. The minutes of time was further broken down by month, which showed spikes before and after tests, particularly in February when there was an overlap of classes and students.

Among the features in eTextbooks the students used highlighting and searching the most, followed by printing. Further breakdown of eTextbook features used by month and by division are included in the presentation slides, which are available on SlideShare.

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