Feature Friday – It Pays to Switch to “Open”

Posted on: February 3, 2023

young woman looking at tablet she is holding in her lap

This summer, JMU adjunct professor Jeannie Harding took advantage of a $2,000 pilot grant from JMU to swap out expensive course materials for open educational resources (OER) to reduce textbook costs for her students, thanks to special funding from JMU.

While this funding was provided by JMU, similar grant opportunities are available from VIVA (Virginia’s Library Consortium) now. Faculty, learn more about VIVA’s Open Grants of $2,000-$50,000 and apply by March 6, 2023.


Tell us about your experience with the grant! 

I teach History 225, and it’s a GenEd class, largely freshman and sophomores. Typically students have to buy volume 1 and 2 of the textbook, and in some classes they have to buy volume 1 and 2 of a primary source book! It adds up to probably $250-300. So when I saw this opportunity, I knew that it would probably fit my class well, and being an adjunct, it might be a year or two before I teach this class again. There’s not much incentive to spend a lot of time redoing the syllabus. So when the grant became available, I thought, “Well, this makes it worth my time to remake this class into something that is no cost to students!”

Did you get any help from anyone at the libraries to find free online sources to replace your textbooks? 

Liz Thompson introduced us to several people – some designers and [Howard Carrier] who is an expert in copyright and [Daisy Breneman] who was involved in inclusion. I ended up working with an instructional designer for another class. It was just great, even though it wasn’t specifically for this class. 

Is your GenEd course now a hundred percent free for your students?

Yes, everything. It’s free online. 

Will other instructors be able to use the work that you did to make it free for other people too, or is that your intellectual property?

We had options about what kind of copyright protections we wanted on there, and there’s a range. I did upload it. I’d be thrilled if other teachers found something they could use there. And it’s got links to all the free websites and things that I’ve used. So yeah, it’s available.

Did you feel like you were compromising on quality to make it free?

I didn’t. The online textbook that I use is called American Yawp, and it’s very good. It took a lot of time to find primary readings to go along with it, and that’s one thing where it’s just much easier to have a book and just assign chapters. You know it’s all together, and it’s kind of been curated, so I kind of had to start from scratch week by week. So, for instance, we’re talking about the 1920s this week in class. And so I had to start from scratch on what topics I want to cover in the 1920s and find sources, and so that’s very time intensive, but I was able to tailor it. If you use a text, you know, a primary source, reader, you’re kind of stuck with what they’ve chosen. And so I was able to really curate what I want to get out of it and find things that are interesting. It’s been a very good thing, just very time consuming. 

Is there anything else I didn’t ask about that you wanted to share?

It was a great process for me. I really appreciate Liz Thompson’s leadership in this and getting us together. She also didn’t demand anything extra from us that was unneeded, which I appreciated. She really just kind of tuned in to what I needed, and I felt like she was always there when I had questions. And it’s not often you get a stipend so nice to do something like this, so I just really appreciate it. It really opened my eyes to doing some redesign in my other courses as well. The process was easy, and I hope more people will get on board with it.

Faculty, do you want to swap out an expensive textbook for “open” course materials that are cost-free for your students? 

Apply by March 6, 2023, for an Open Course Grant of $4,000-$50,000 for instructors to create or adapt open or no-cost materials for use in a for-credit course. Additional Open Grants of $2,000-$100,000 are available from VIVA throughout the year.

Photo by Anna Demianenko on Unsplash

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