Open textbooks reportedly save U of S students $1.18 million

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University of Saskatchewan students have saved $1.18 million on textbooks since 2014 by using open textbooks, according to a news release posted on the university website on Aug. 29.

Open textbooks are free, online, open-source course materials that can act as alternatives or supplements to commercially distributed texts. The project to support open textbooks at the U of S began in 2014 under the leadership of then U of S Students’ Union President Max Fineday.

Since its inception, the project has seen continued support from both the USSU and the University Administration. U of S Vice-Provost Patti McDougall has been instrumental to the project’s continued growth and success.

“We look for those opportunities where the USSU and the university, or the Graduate Students’ Association and the university, have common goals, and then, we go for it together,” McDougall said.

According to McDougall, the estimated $1.18 million in student savings accounts for the total number of open textbooks distributed through all of the university’s colleges since 2014, with each free textbook being valued at $100. Based on this estimated value per unit, yearly savings have grown from $30,000 in 2014 to $450,000 in 2018.

McDougal notes that, since the early days of the program, the use of open textbooks has spread through various colleges and departments at the U of S.

“There [are] departments in arts and science where students are benefitting from open-educational resources, multiple courses in agriculture and bioresources — the Edwards School of Business has been in on it. There have been adoptions in veterinary medicine, so it has cut broadly across, and it’s growing,” McDougall said.

Aside from offering students a more affordable university experience, open-educational resources also benefit professors by allowing them to create, edit, adapt and expand on open course materials — meaning that educators can choose texts that better suit their courses and teaching style.

“The university has put in money, and the province has put in money, and together, we’ve used that money to hire graduate students, to hire sessional instructors — people who are knowledgeable in the field and can do some of the work that’s needed to modify the open textbooks so that they meet the needs of a course,” McDougall said.

Through offering affordable alternatives to commercial textbooks, McDougall explains that the U of S administration hopes to mitigate the financial burdens of students.

“In terms of financials, the costs [of] the student experience, it’s essentially no stone unturned,” McDougall said. “We are constantly looking for ways … to save students money, and this open-educational resource movement has just been an absolutely perfect opportunity for us to do that.”

McDougall says that the program also extends past digital ebooks, giving students the licence to print open textbooks on their own or through services offered at the University Bookstore.

“The bookstore provides a print-on-demand service for open textbooks,” McDougall said. “There’s a cost associated with that, but it’s not designed as a make-money venture at the bookstore. It’s designed as a break-even venture.”

Going forward, McDougall plans to continue assisting educators with adapting open textbooks to their specific needs.

“You might find a textbook for your class in one of those open-resource repositories that you think you want to use, but it’s not quite right,” McDougall said. “Let’s say it’s missing pieces that you must have. Then, we’re supporting people to help develop those pieces.”

Cole Chretien / Culture Editor

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor