Feature Friday: Faculty Leading by Example with Open and Affordable Resources (Jim Bywater)

Posted on: October 29, 2021

Students in Dr. Jim Bywater’s classes did not spend any money on textbooks for his courses this semester. That’s because he is using open, affordable course materials for all his classes, both undergraduate and graduate. As Director of Educational Technology Programs in JMU’s College of Education, Jim Bywater leads by example, giving the current and aspiring teachers in his classes a chance to experience open educational resources from a student perspective.

If you’re imagining “e-textbooks,” think again. Dr. Bywater’s course materials are a collection of articles, book chapters, videos, and podcasts linked from his Canvas courses, which he can customize from one semester to the next. Keep reading to find out how this allows him to adapt to the changing landscape and the needs of his students.

Q&A with Jim

Q: How did you decide to make all your course materials cost-free to students?

A: It’s an equity and access issue, and we try our best to make all reading cost-free in all our Ed Tech graduate program courses. We know that the cost of graduate school can be a barrier to many people who are considering it, and those costs include textbooks. Fortunately, students have access to the library here at JMU, which is full of resources available to them at no extra cost, so rather than using a textbook I have students read articles or other resources that are accessible from the library. 

It’s also about flexibility and innovation. Once I’m thinking about readings as a carefully curated set of library resources rather than chapters from a textbook, I feel freer to change or add readings that better reflect what students need and how understandings shift. For example, this year and last, I’ve added more readings about race and cultural diversity in educational technology. Obviously, I could have done this even if I had used a textbook, but changing readings feels different than adding extra to a textbook.

Q: If you have ever had the experience of changing an existing course to make all the readings cost-free for students, what was that process like?

A: The JMU courses I inherited already had readings that were cost-free to students. This is because of the prior work and leadership of fellow Ed Tech faculty member Michele Estes.

Q: How has JMU Libraries supported you or your colleagues in finding open course materials to use in classes?

A: JMU Libraries, and our liaison librarian Brian Sullivan especially, has been very supportive in helping us provide access to resources to students. Our program does use textbooks in some courses, but we work with the Libraries to select books that could be available as ebooks, cost-free, for students via the library. 

Q: How does open access align with your goals and values, personally and professionally?

A: I think creativity, innovation, and collaboration are super important, and sometimes these values are prevented from flourishing by closed, proprietary, or for-profit access systems. At the same time, authors of content need to be paid, and publishing high quality content isn’t cost-free, so I think that universities and other leaders in open access need to understand that open access isn’t just about saving money. 

Links for Faculty

Faculty, if you would like to incorporate open materials into your courses, follow the links below.

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