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Area colleges releasing free online textbooks
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Two University of North Georgia faculty members are working closely together to make college a little more affordable.

“Over the coming year, we’ll develop this textbook and then make it available to students at low or no cost,” said Dean of Libraries Deborah Prosser.

The world literature textbook will be offered free online, and a print edition will be cheap. Prosser and English professor Bonnie Robinson are developing the materials using a nearly $25,000 grant from the University System of Georgia.

“The cost of textbooks has become a burdensome and, in some cases, prohibitive aspect of higher education,” Prosser said.

The work is being done as part of the Affordable Learning Georgia initiative, which stems from the larger Complete College Georgia program to increase the number of students graduating from college to 60 percent from 42 percent.

Robinson, also the director of the University Press of North Georgia, said some students are unable to afford textbooks, which can run $100 or more.

“This lack of required materials puts them behind in their classwork,” she said. “It’s a gap from which they have difficulty recovering, if they recover at all, to the detriment of their performance in the course.”

The book is the second digital attempt for the University Press of North Georgia, the first being an open-source electronic history textbook. Robinson also participated in that development. Open-source products offer universal access and a free license; the idea is to share the university’s textbook compilations with other institutions across the state. Professors can choose what to use in their classrooms, either the full textbook or just portions to supplement existing materials.

The digital version of the U.S. History I textbook is free to access on; a traditional print copy costs $35.

And electronic versions, the professors pointed out, can have more supplements while sifting through what they generally find useless.

“The possibilities (are) to enhance electronic textbooks with add-ons, link-throughs and customized tutorials as well as their ease of distribution and accessibility,” Robinson said. 

“World literature is typically a big heavy anthology,” Prosser said. “One textbook can cost $120, for example, for this course. And students may not even use the entire aspect of the book.

“If we can pull from open resources and create an open-access World Literature I textbook, it would basically be no cost to the students to access the textbook.”

She said there are around 320 students taking the world literature class per semester. Multiplied by $120 for the cost of the anthology, it’s roughly $38,000 saved.

Brenau University professors have also been making the transition to a more virtual world. Bill Lightfoot, dean for the college of business and mass communication, said textbooks don’t necessarily provide the tools students need.

“Our focus is on several things, but one of the things that we really want our students to learn is how to think critically,” he said. “So it’s not just rote memorization of terminology. There is some need for that ... but it’s especially the ability to find good information to think on your own. And I think with textbooks, a lot of times, it’s spoon-fed.

“I’d much rather that we teach them how to do their own research and find information,” he added. “Quite frankly, there’s not a great need for textbooks per se.”

Brenau’s library has been making the digital transition for some time, with about half of its books offered digitally and half in print.

“We have to serve our patrons no matter where they are,” said Linda Kern, associate professor and head of research and instructional services with Brenau. “We are leaning really heavily into the digital realm to accomplish that.”

She said the idea is for the library to spend the money on the resources, and let the students take advantage.

“A lot of times faculty will choose these books for textbooks, or they’ll have required reading from the books reserved, so to speak, so the students can easily access the books,” she said. 

Prosser called the digital move an “exciting direction” for the students. It’s a different method of disseminating information than some people are used to, but the students are embracing the changes.

“I’m hoping we can do more open textbooks in the future,” she said.

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