By Allison Campbell-Jensen
With the help of the U of M Libraries, Margaret Root, Associate Dean for Education in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, wrote “Veterinary Preventive Medicine,” an e-textbook available to all at no charge, including students.
“Having this resource for free is awesome,” says Logan VerMeer, first-year student in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I don’t have any idea how I’d find the information otherwise.”
Easing the financial burden for students while providing equitable access to all students by the first day of class are goals of the Partnership for Affordable Content. From Fall 2015 through Spring 2020, the Partnership has saved students more than $2.3 million, says Kristi Jensen, Program Development Lead for the eLearning Support Initiative.
Creating a textbook
“The Libraries made it so easy to do it and do it well. I’m also easily able to find the information I need.”
—Student Madelyn Junion-Sherman
Root saw a Libraries promotion for grants for affordable content and took advantage of the extensive notes she had compiled on the subject. A neuroscience graduate student helped format the book, turning the material into “readable chunks.”
More challenging was transforming material that had been behind a password in learning management systems like Moodle or Canvas and making it openly available online. The Libraries were helpful in taking a fresh look at images for possible copyright issues and seeking different images for Root’s book.
Grant money provided to Root permitted her to hire a graphic designer with a biology background who read through the book. The designer found places to add illustrations that supported multiple learning styles.
Root says she would encourage faculty who have extensive notes for classes to look at turning them into an e-book. It can be updated on the fly, as vaccine information needs updating for instance, and shared broadly. One of her students told her that her boss uses the book.
And, as the pandemic began, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges asked for virtual textbooks to share. “Preventive Veterinary Medicine” was one of five or six that our College of Veterinary Medicine could offer to others.
Most importantly, she says: “The Libraries made it so easy to do it and do it well.” Student Madelyn Junion-Sherman says she finds it concise and well-written and “I’m also easily able to find the information I need.”
Adopting an e-book
Another price increase drove Lisa Hutchinson, Communication Studies teaching faculty, to find alternatives for students in Introduction to Electronic Media Production. “Our hard-cover textbook has gotten up to $277,” she says. “When I read about the grant, it was like, yes! This textbook is getting prohibitive for students to buy, and, quite frankly, some were trying to do without.”
The Partnership suggested a few options for multi-user e-books and the one chosen cost $27 — a tenth of the cost. With 8 class sections with 18 students each, that means the cost dropped from $38,880 (at $270 a book) to $3,888.
She also points out the features that are available:
- The search function is very user friendly
- it has the read-aloud feature
- the notebook is built into it; and
- she has more opportunities to use its illustrations and other materials in class.
“There’s so much more available than a hard-cover book,” Hutchinson says.
Says student Joe Radinovich: “It’s great in a lot of ways, like keeping budgets down. And I have it available wherever I am.”
Developing a video textbook
Mathematics Assistant Professor Mike Weimerskirch assumes that students taking pre-calculus are repeating the course. “You can’t just teach it like the first time; they only learned parts,” he says. “You need to teach it differently.”
Another challenge is that the parts they are missing differ from student to student: “a bunch of students with 50% knowledge — a different 50% for each student.”
Weimerskirch uses an active learning approach, offering problems easy enough so students understand the question even if they are not sure of the procedure to arrive at the answer.
“We spend a lot of time at the beginning of the course trying to convince them they have some mathematical skills and not to be afraid of trying something that doesn’t work,” he says. “But try something and see what it leads to: whether it is the right approach or not, it likely will have taught them something that will be useful.”
Beginning in 2015, using grants from the Partnership for Affordable Content, along with funding from other sources, Weimerskirch and two graduate students began designing and producing a video textbook that students can consult anytime. This video textbook series is free to students online through the University Libraries Digital Conservancy. He also put homework problems on a computer so students can know immediately if they understood the material.
With videos, students can run them at their own pace. After they watch a lecture, they can try the homework, then if they didn’t understand it, they can watch the lecture again. Giving students control of their choices of how to learn course material promotes student learning and engagement.
Weimerskirch is committed to constantly improving the video textbook. And, for students who would have a hard time in introductory math classes, he offers hope. Before this project started, about 10% of students would have dropped out of the pre-calculus course; now that number has dropped to 3%.
So, with the help of the Partnership, these faculty have not only lowered costs but improved results for students.