The future of college textbooks is open

Stack of books and laptop on wooden tableFor many students and parents, the cost of college textbooks may come as a surprise. A study published by the General Accountability Office in 2013 revealed that textbook costs rose 82 percent between 2002 and 2012. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) says the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year. The frustration that comes with these rising costs has motivated educators to provide more affordable and accessible academic resources for their students.

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined by the Hewlett Foundation as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

Using OER in higher education varies greatly from class to class. Some teachers may use OER by showing a video, while others design their course around curated material. In many cases, OER are simply used to enhance personal knowledge and learn about topics related to academic research. For students, OER can complement a course they are taking. One example of OER is MERLOTx, a student portal of free online material including learning modules, online courses, and online textbooks. A student can find textbooks on art, business, science and technology, and even workforce development.

Historically, faculty members and students had limited options with course materials and textbooks, relying primarily on publisher content. However, OER initiatives at colleges and universities around the world are growing rapidly. The Instructional Technology Council, a national leader in distance education, started tracking open education impact in 2012. An annual survey showed that member institutions reported a 20 percent growth in OER adoption. Karen Gardner-Athey, a faculty member of the non-profit Online Learning Consortium, said that “OER textbooks will become the norm in higher education within the next 3-5 years.”
O.E.R. graphic

OER at UA Little Rock

With OER initiatives growing worldwide, it’s no surprise that UA Little Rock has developed its own in recent years. The university’s eLearning and Collections & Archives units in May 2017 cosponsored an OER Alternative Textbook Mini Grant competition, which encouraged faculty to adopt existing OER material, create their own content, or curate a blend of both, for their course instruction.

Dr. David Montague, Director of eLearning and Scholarly Technology & Resources, is also a professor of criminal justice and member of the UA Little Rock OER Task Force. Montague acknowledges the difficulties students may face with gaining access to course material at the beginning of the semester. In addition to time and financial constraints, there are moments when a textbook is not in stock or a student purchases the wrong edition. In these situations, OER can be a helpful tool. “OER doesn’t have to mean everything’s open education resource. For me it’s more important to have some material in [the course] at the beginning to get the student out of the gate, so the pressure is not on them as much, and the professor knows everyone had access to it …,” Montague said.

Montague said he believes the grant gives faculty a way to think in more innovative ways about student success. “With my graduate course that I have right now, it’s a policy course. I was using a book that’s almost $150 for the book,” he said. “It’s a really good book, but at the last minute I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m gonna take a tip from what we talked about [in the task force]. I’m going to use OER content for my own course.’ So that’s what I did.”

Montague said he also hopes the grant encourages collaboration among UA Little Rock faculty.

The recipients of the mini grant, which were announced May 31, will present their OER content in an Open Educational Resources Workshop in Fall 2017 and participate in Open Education Week at UA Little Rock in Spring 2018.

For more information on how OER can support your education (and to see a handy list of OER) check out http://researchguides.ualr.edu/oer/oer-resources.

Blackboard Student Support

BlackboardBasics

At Your Fingertips: Blackboard Student Support

By now, you’re probably at least familiar with the concept of “online courses.” However, you may be wondering “How do I access my online courses, and who’s going to help me if I have a problem?”

Blackboard is UA Little Rock’s online learning management system where students can access their course work, such as assignments, media, tests, and grades. You can also communicate with your classmates and instructors through the Blackboard interface via discussions, messaging, and video collaboration.

Blackboard’s technology accommodates a variety of learning environments. While students who take classes on campus may use Blackboard as a digital extension of their classroom, for fully online students, Blackboard is the classroom.

One example of how online students can have an engaging classroom experience without ever stepping foot on campus is through Blackboard Collaborate. Collaborate allows you to engage in real-time discussions with your classmates and instructors using a chat-room format with webcams, microphones, and screen-sharing, creating a face-to-face experience as if you were in a physical classroom together.

Because the technology is potentially new to many students, UA Little Rock offers Blackboard Student Support to assist those who may struggle with accessing or navigating their online courses. Some of the resources offered through UA Little Rock’s Blackboard Student Support include:

Blackboard Orientation

New students are encouraged to attend a Blackboard orientation workshop at the beginning of their first semester. Thirty-minute sessions are offered on campus in Dickinson Hall, Room 101, during the first week of the fall and spring semesters. If you’re unable to make it to campus or need a quick refresher, check out the online orientation on the Blackboard Student Support website at ualr.edu/blackboard/orientation or the optional “Blackboard Student Orientation” course your “Courses” module in Blackboard.

Blackboard Student Support Website

You can find answers to most of your Blackboard-related questions on the Blackboard Student Support website. Here you’ll find the online Blackboard orientation with video tutorials, written step-by-step “how-to” guides, support articles, and more. Make sure to visit and bookmark ualr.edu/blackboard so you’ll have quick access to these resources throughout the semester.

Blackboard Student Support Staff

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, the website also features a support request form and phone number to contact our support team directly. Located on UA Little Rock’s main campus in Dickinson Hall, Room 105, our Blackboard Student Support team is dedicated to helping you troubleshoot your online courses, either in person or at a distance. You can stop by the office or call between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or email anytime throughout the week. Please note: Support staff will try to respond to your support request within 24 hours, excluding weekends and U.S. holidays.
Visit ualr.edu/blackboard/contact to contact our support staff.

UA Little Rock Bookstore

At Your Fingertips: UA Little Rock Bookstore

UALR Bookstore – UALR Online

UALR Bookstore manager Brenda Thomas says her store offers convenient, affordable services to students both online and on campus.


At the beginning of every semester, there’s always one thing that students have to do – buy books. Luckily, the UA Little Rock Bookstore has everything students need, from books and supplies to university apparel.

The UA Little Rock Bookstore is owned and operated by Barnes & Noble and has been active on campus for 20 years. Bookstore manager Brenda Thomas has been working at the campus bookstore for 15 of those years, and she said that the UA Little Rock Bookstore’s purpose is to take care of a student’s book-related needs—whether that student be on or off campus.

Textbook search toolAs more online degree programs and courses become available, more students are ordering their textbooks online as well. UA Little Rock students can easily find and order their books through the user-friendly search tool at ualr.bncollege.com by selecting “Textbooks> Find Textbooks” and searching for books based on department and class.

“We have quite a few students who take online classes,” Thomas said. “They place their orders, and then we get their orders shipped to them.”

Thomas said the ability to ship books to students at a fixed shipping rate of $7.50 – no matter how many books are purchased – is a plus for students taking classes online and even for those who aren’t. In fact, the bookstore does more shipping than it does pick-up orders, according to Thomas, and orders within the state of Arkansas are shipped within 24 hours.

“I think it’s growing more because you have a lot of students that just place an order online, even if they live on University [Avenue], because it’s a convenience.”

In addition to being able to purchase books online, students may also rent their books online through the UA Little Rock Bookstore. The store will ship the rented book to the student, and when student is done with the book, they can return the book in store or simply print out a shipping label and ship it back through the mail for no additional charge.

Thomas said she tries to keep the bookstore content fresh—whether that’s through participating in events like Grad Fest or having giveaways.

“Every semester, we like to bring in something that we didn’t have before,” Thomas said. “That way, when they come in here they always see something new.”

You can browse the UA Little Rock Bookstore’s offerings and promotions at ualr.bncollege.com.

Veteran Student Success

At Your Fingertips: Veteran Student Success


The Office of Veterans Affairs has made it its mission to help military veterans and their eligible dependents achieve academic success at UALR. Accredited by the Veterans Administration, the UALR Veterans Affairs office assists military students and dependents with the enrollment process and files the necessary paperwork to ensure that they receive their educational benefits.

Kathy Oliverio, the director of Veteran Student Success at UALR, said that the UALR Veterans Affairs office essentially works with the student veteran to make sure their tuition is paid.

“Our Veterans Affairs office is the go-to place for anyone who is on the VA educational benefits. Any veteran will go there, and it will be the starting point for them to get their educational benefits to start, and then to continue, and to be certified,” Oliverio said. “In essence, they’re the money folks. They’re the people who allow our veterans to actually have their education paid for.”

The UALR Veterans Affairs office also serves as an ambassador between the veteran student and UALR administration, offering support in special situations that may require individual adjustments.

Oliverio — a veteran herself, having served 20 years in the United States Air Force — said that she works closely with veteran students in her role as well.

“I look out for the veteran on the academic side of the house. I make sure that the veteran, once they get to UALR, and sometimes even prior to, that they graduate, that they stay in school, that they get any help that they need — whether it’s tutoring or guidance as far as what classes they take,” she said. “I advise veteran students. Sometimes, they just like to talk to another veteran.”

Oliverio noted that the needs of the online veteran student are no different than those who attend the physical campus in Little Rock, and the university is committed to helping its veteran students no matter where they complete their studies. “A lot of our online students are active-duty, Air Force military,” Oliverio said. The online classes benefit active-duty military, because there are occasions when a student will be unable to complete face-to-face classes due to military obligations.

In fact, UALR currently has active-duty military students in Korea, the United Kingdom, and scattered throughout the U.S., according to Oliverio.

“Online is perfect for them,” Oliverio said. “No matter where they go in the world, they can access everything they need to do.”

For more information about the services UALR offers its military students, please visit the Veteran Student Success site at ualr.edu/military.

University Writing Center

At Your Fingertips: University Writing Center


College is often more about honing one’s skills than producing a final result. For the past 35 years, the University Writing Center at UALR has provided support for students who wish to improve their academic writing abilities and, as a result, produce more well-written compositions.

The Writing Center staff work with students across all majors and are committed to providing quality feedback to help students improve the clarity of their writing.

Dr. Allison Holland, director of the University Writing Center, said that the goal of the Writing Center isn’t to edit or fix a student’s work; the goal is to provide guidance to students, so they can eventually work on their own.

“You work with the writer not the paper, and a lot of people say, ‘You fixed my paper for me.’ And the answer is: there is no fixing of a paper,” Holland said. “To you this is one paper among many papers you might write over the course of your career as a student. We want to think about this as one of a progression of things that you will do.”

In addition to Holland, the Writing Center is staffed by student interns who will look over your paper with you. Holland made it clear that they don’t proofread, but rather give suggestions on how to improve your work.

“We offer a free service to students who come from across the curriculum, who bring in papers they need to work on for their assignments–whether they’re research projects or personal pieces. And we work on them from the beginning to the end of those processes. We don’t edit and proofread their papers, but we can help them brainstorm, get started, and generate ideas,” Holland said.

Students who are taking online classes can submit papers to the Writing Center staff electronically through the Online Writing Lab (OWL).

It’s important to divulge as much information as possible about your assignment if you’re submitting it online, the OWL website states. Interns usually take about 48 hours to respond to submissions submitted through the OWL, so you should plan accordingly when submitting your drafts.

Whether you’re seeking assistance in person or online, it’s clear that the Writing Center staff are eager to help you succeed; however, you must also be willing to make the effort.

“If you’re going to have someone climb a rock wall, it’s good to have a rope on them to help pull them up as they go; but the truth is they still have to use their hands and feet to get to the top. We’re someone who stands beside a writer and talks about different options they might have—for places they can put their hands or feet or organizational development,” Holland said. “And we encourage them to climb, but we climb with them.”

Disability Resource Center

At Your Fingertips: Disability Resource Center

man using sign language in front of camera
Clint Brockway signs during a Spring 2014 commencement ceremony at UALR.

“The failing is not on the part of the student with the disability,” Reed Claiborne, an access consultant with the Disability Resource Center, said. “The failing would be on not providing accessibility.”

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) is one of the many resources available to UALR students both on campus and at a distance. The DRC works with faculty and students to make sure facilities and resources are accessible to students who need them.

Claiborne said that the focus of the DRC is not so much the student’s disability but the barriers that a student may face as a result. For example, a student on campus may have mobility issues, and the elevator isn’t working. The elevator is the barrier. Of course, the DRC’s work spans further than infrastructure. If a student has difficulty hearing and the course requires lectures, then the DRC coordinates with interpreters to provide that student the access they need.

The DRC also works with online students. Reed said interpreters are sometimes needed for online lectures as well. If a video doesn’t have subtitles, the DRC can transcribe the video for that purpose. There are also instances of students with visual disabilities needing materials that would typically be put into a picture or .pdf format typed out for them, so their devices can appropriately read the materials to them.

Students are getting involved too. UALR has a “Students Beyond Barriers” Facebook group where students communicate and share technological innovations regarding disabilities. Claiborne mentioned a time when a student in the Facebook group shared a link about a watch that reads braille, for example.

The DRC is working diligently to provide accessibility to students who need it. However, Claiborne made it clear that the ultimate goal is to create a classroom environment, online or otherwise, that accommodates all students. “If the class is already designed where (students) don’t have to jump through hoops,” he said, “everyone has done their job.”

If you need assistance or would like to learn more, visit the DRC website at ualr.edu/disability.

Ottenheimer Library

At Your Fingertips: Ottenheimer Library

UALR Ottenheimer LibraryThe Ottenheimer Library website is among many online resources available for UALR students. Not only can you search for materials from the Ottenheimer Library online, but you can also find articles and materials through a number of academic databases, research guides and journals organized by subject matter, and reserved course materials. Additionally, the Ottenheimer Library offers several services at a distance that many students may not know about.

Research Assistance

The library’s helpful staff makes life easier for distance learning students at UALR. If you need help with research, the staff is more than willing to help through the Internet. Through the library’s “Ask Ottenheimer Library” page, students can call, chat, email, and even text library staff for assistance.
You can also request a consultation appointment with a librarian – in-person or remotely. Library staff have Blackboard Collaborate services available, which allow you to live chat with library staff while sharing your computer screen. This may help you and the library staff communicate more effectively and make it easier for them to render service in some cases.

Resource Shipment

Do you live more than 50 miles away from the UALR campus? If so, you may be eligible to have resource materials shipped to your home. The library staff can even scan articles or chapters for you. This service is a major plus for those students who live too far away from campus—making driving to the library unfeasible. The library’s website lists counties that are generally ineligible for this service.

Interlibrary Loan Service (ILLiad)

Using this service, students can have articles and books shipped from other libraries, through the WorldCat database, to the Ottenheimer Library. It only takes the Ottenheimer staff 24 hours to process each order. Once the order arrives, you’ll be able to pick it up at the Ottenheimer Library, or if you live more than 50 miles from campus, the Ottenheimer staff can have the materials shipped to you. The delivery time varies, so plan accordingly. Order requests may be made through the library’s website.

ArkReach

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is another useful resource for UALR Online students. CALS has over 1 million resources available for check out—including books, magazines, movies, and games. With the ArkReach service, students can check out materials from CALS and have them delivered to the Ottenheimer Library for pickup. And as mentioned before, if a student lives more than 50 miles away from campus, the Ottenheimer Library can have CALS resources shipped to your home. All you need is a CALS card, which you can request at cals.org. The form only takes a few minutes to fill out, and it’s worth doing to have access to CALS resources.

Access To Other Libraries

This may come as a surprise to many, but as a UALR student, you have access to other libraries across the state. By using an ARKLink card, you can go to participating academic libraries and check out materials. A list of participating libraries is available at arklinklibraries.org.
Applying for a card is simple; just fill out a short form on the Ottenheimer Library’s website. It only takes the library staff 24 hours to create the card, and then they can mail it to your residence or you can pick it up at the library.

So whether you need help with a research paper or access to a multitude of academic media, UALR’s Ottenheimer Library is equipped to help both online and on-campus students succeed.

For more information, including the library’s operating hours, visit ualr.edu/library.