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Affordable Learning Exchange works to increase access by reducing costly course material

Goal is to save students $10 million by 2020

The Ohio State University is working to move textbooks off the shelves and online to make learning more affordable and accessible to students.

An update on the university’s Affordable Learning Exchange program was presented to the Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee at the June Board of Trustees session on Thursday. The program works with Ohio State faculty to find or develop high-quality, open and affordable alternatives to conventional, high-cost textbooks.

“A focus has been placed on the cost of textbooks. We talk about the cost of tuition and fees. We talk about housing and dining. We talk about the other costs of school as well,” Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron said. “Sometimes it’s that last dollar that makes a difference if a student is successful or not.”

Associate Vice President of Learning Technology Liv Gjestvang said students on financial aid or those who don’t receive aid at all often struggle to pay for textbooks and classroom materials.

“What we hear from students is there are times when they are deciding between buying food or buying textbooks,” Gjestvang said.

The Affordable Learning Exchange funds projects to help faculty find new ways to design classes that reduce costs for students. Services include support for course design, use of University Libraries for free access to required textbooks and access to openly licensed course material like free video and textbooks.

“Our goal is to save students $10 million by 2020,” Gjestvang said.

Gjestvang said a program in partnership with Big Ten universities is building out an open-source test and quiz bank to replace material tied to textbooks. She said for courses where a standard textbook could not be replaced, there is an effort to offer the books in digital format at a reduced cost.

Strategic Communication Lecturer Jasmine Roberts related her personal story as a first-generation college student who struggled to come up with the money to buy textbooks.

She said as a teacher, it was liberating to develop coursework that was not textbook-driven. She said she focused on teaching practice first and then content that fit her teaching objectives.

She said the free material also had an impact on her students’ efforts from the start of the semester.

“Because the textbook is free, they can come to my class on day one and be prepared,” Roberts said. “It enhances that course preparedness that we really need from our students.”

McPheron said the efforts are not just a way to reduce costs for students – they can be a way to enhance the teaching and learning mission for faculty as well.

“What we find is this is not just a cost differential for our students. Faculty discover a different way of teaching, and students discover a different way of learning as a result of all of this.”