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

eLearning librarian tackles challenges facing online students

Authors Note: If you (like Cori) are an audio learner, please check out our short recording of the interview where Cori discusses ILL and OER, along with some advice she’s learned while on her path as an online student and librarian.

UA Little Rock eLibrarian Cori

UA Little Rock eLibrarian Cori takes some time to answer a few questions. What is an interlibrary loan? What does OER stand for? Last but not least, any advice for online students? Music: The Gold Lining by Broke For Free is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0 International License.

Cori Schmidtbauer knows firsthand the difficulties that online students face. Born and raised in California, she earned her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree online through San Jose State University. Since October 2016, she has been the eLearning Librarian in Ottenheimer Library at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she is also earning her Master of Education in Learning Systems Technology degree online.

As the eLearning Librarian, Cori is interested in making the lives of online students easier. With collaboration from a colleague, she conducted a survey in Fall 2016 to assess online students’ awareness of library services and resources that are available to them. It turns out that many students were not aware of certain services, such as Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

What is an Interlibrary Loan (ILL)?

“An interlibrary loan is a service that we offer to our students… [it is] the borrowing and lending of materials between libraries, and so if we do not own something here at Ottenheimer then we can request it from somewhere else – a different library, and that library can be local, within the town, within the state, within the country, or internationally as well.  

But we do have other sources for those who do not live locally or maybe live next to another university and are taking classes here at UA Little Rock. It’s called ARKLink, and [students] can request to have a special card [mailed] to them, and that will allow them to physically visit a university or college library within that ARKLink consortium and check out the materials.”

Open Educational Resources

Cori is also involved in the Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force at UA Little Rock. The task force consists of people from Ottenheimer Library, eLearning, Scholarly and Technology Resources, and Student Affairs. Their goal includes trying to find alternative materials and resources that are open and freely accessible.

“We’ve been trying to encourage our instructors here to use those materials in their classes, and especially if they are [teaching] online classes, because students in online classes are virtual – digital. Why do they need a physical book? So that has been one of the goals, and we recently did a little mini grant as an incentive for instructors to encourage them to use this. The grant was kind of modeled after UA Fayetteville and they had a great success with that.”

[For information on the 2017 UA Little Rock mini grant award winners, check out

Any advice for online students?

“You really have to know yourself first. What are you able to do, and what will your personal or work life allow you to do? You know you’re capable of going above and beyond, but does your personal and professional circumstance allow you to do that?

Number one – You have to be able to manage yourself and your time, because nobody’s going to do it for you. You’re going to have different types of instructors who have different teaching styles. Knowing ourselves – what learning styles do we have? I’m an audio/visual person … if there are no visuals then I prefer audio and listening. You know, in my experience though, many instructors in online classes will provide an audio recording of a lecture with a Power Point – so you still get that audio sensory learning there.

Second piece advice I would have is don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to communicate with your instructor or with your peers … because that communication is key. And if you have a question, and especially if there is an open discussion board that you can post that question to … you may not be the only person with that question. If you’re confused, other people may be confused. If you know the answer – to help somebody out – feel free to help your classmate out.”

Cori can be reached at 501.569.8811 or To see some of the videos that Cori has produced and curated, visit

For more information on ILL, please visit us at and for more information on OER, please visit us at