Leaving the Textbook Behind

by Emily S. Logan, Assistant Professor, Kirkwood Community College

Emily 2017 copy

With the support of the Kirkwood OER team, I am now utilizing open resources for two courses, Substance Abuse and Treatment and Loss, Trauma and Resilience.  Both are Human Services (HSV) courses and offered in the Kirkwood ATAW (online) format.  I began considering this shift about a year ago and intend to continue the use of open educational resources for both courses.  As I reflect on my experience, some themes emerge.


Perhaps to you can relate to the struggle in finding the “right” textbook for your course.  My office bookshelf is littered with my attempts. The ongoing search for a better book left me frustrated.  The more frequently I taught the courses, the more I brought in “supplemental” readings, outside of the required textbook.  From these experiences, I wondered if relying solely on open educational resources, as well as other non-copyrighted sources, would be a better alternative.


Research, theory, policy, and practice move quickly in human services, so textbooks too become quickly outdated. I found myself editing course readings semester to semester due to new developments in the field, often inspired by a conference I attended or collaboration with community providers.  As an applied program, having current, up-to-date information for students is critical.


Integrating new resources empowers my creativity as an instructor. Familiar course material becomes new.  Furthermore, the flexibility of online instruction and utilization of electronic resources such as podcasts, websites, and video creates a dynamic learning atmosphere.


Through the use of open resources, I ask students to make connections between research, theory, policy, and practice.  Weekly modules typically contain content and applications.  Content knowledge is evaluated by quizzes, and applications are evaluated through discussions.


Students overwhelmingly like the videos I create to introduce the week’s material.  Even if the video is just a few minutes long, it seems to help students understand how the week’s assigned content is tied together.  Furthermore, I can explain the websites I’ve chosen and help students see what parts of the website are most critical.  For example, when assigning Understanding Drug Use and Addiction (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction), I use Zoom technology to share my screen and highlight key points or links on the webpage.


Without a textbook, we lose many of the convenient publisher resources including presentations, notes, and test banks.  This can increase preparation time for faculty, so commitment to the process is critical.

Concluding thoughts….

If you’re curious about leaving the textbook behind, contact me anytime.  I’m happy to talk more about my decision, process, and lessons learned along the way.

New York Times articles on Open Textbook savings

The New York Times just published an article, Putting a Dent in College Costs With Open Source Textbooks, that outlines just how much students whose professors assign open textbooks are saving. This is a great article to share with a colleague who wants to know more about “open source textbooks” or OERs. The author points out that “Textbook costs are particularly burdensome for students at two-year community colleges; the cost, more than $1,300, is about 40 percent of the average cost of tuition, according to the College Board.” Further, as those of us who teach and work in community colleges know, “[Lack of] textbooks can interfere with education. Some students, for instance, may delay buying the required text for a class, and fall behind; or they simply don’t buy it at all, putting themselves at a disadvantage.” Open licensed educational resources can be a great option for faculty who want to save students money, but who also want to have greater control and greater flexibility in the resources assigned to students for reading, viewing or listening. See Kirkwood’s OER guide for more information and resources!


I know Saylor.org has been mentioned in OER guides, as well as Alan and I’s T4LT episode on OERs (part 3) amongst a Rice Krispie bar, but I think it’s worth it’s own blog post.  Saylor.org is actually a site that contains several courses, across all subjects, developed by content experts and peer reviewed.  All of the course materials are OERs.  You can probably see the benefits here.  For one, you could find a course and have a nice repository of tons of resources that have been reviewed to meet the outcomes of the course.  So, a lot of the work is already done for you!

Saylor also provides a variety of open resources for each class.  You may find open texts, articles, YouTube videos, and/or interactive flash-based activities/games.  One tendency I’ve seen from instructors is to focus heavily on the textbook – whether open or not.  Thinking outside the box (or the book, in this case), gives you the option to mix and match resources to meet your course outcomes, and overall, I think Saylor does a nice job of demonstrating this.

I haven’t checked out every course for every subject, but I’ve jumped into a few courses.  I was especially interested in the introductory communication course, and while the resources were sound and did align with the course outcomes, the YouTube video lectures were recorded in the early 2000s.  I hesitate to say they were out of date because the content was still relevant, but the video quality and even the early 2000s hairstyles and fashion were enough to take me back to my high school days and I lost interest quickly.  Bottom line, not all of the resources are perfect by any means, but they are free and open, so it’s definitely worth checking out.  If you really get into a course, you can take the final exam at the end (for free) and if you earn 70% or higher you can earn a certificate to decorate the walls of your office!

The Textbook: Yay or Nay?

I just read a great blog post from “The Good Enough Professor”. She writes:

More and more, we need to teach students to learn. Textbooks, which repackage reality into easily assimilated clumps of information, too often prevent us from doing that. Students want to adroitly navigate the world of information–hence their zeal for finding workarounds. By abandoning textbooks, we can better work with that grain rather than against it.

To read more see the full post here.

We’d love to hear your response to this post. Please post comments below!

Ready for a summer project?

Summer is the perfect time to explore open education resources (OER) for a course you want to rework or improve. Maybe you’re unhappy with your current textbook, maybe you’re planning out a course you haven’t taught before, or maybe you just want customize your course resources to better match what your students need access to. No matter the reason, summer is a great time to get this work done! Librarians Kate Hess and Nicole Forsythe, as well as other colleagues across the college, are ready to help you. Give us a call or an email and we’ll be happy to consult with you on how to proceed with your specific information needs in finding and using OER for your course.

Also: if you plan on converting a whole course to OER, you may want to apply for a 1 credit hour stipend. See this document for details.

Creating a wiki for OER resources for communication

My latest efforts to use OER’s is to collect resources and tools for content creation using a wiki.

I have been experimenting with wiki and website creation, mostly for creating an online presence for my own use but also aspiring to a wider audience. I experimented with creating an OER website, entitled Basic Course OER, from scratch at Reclaim Hosting. This is a web host that is geared to higher education, offering hosting and domain name service for $12. (Their efforts are a bit of an experiment, so I am not sure this low price will last long.)

I tried creating a Mediawiki-based wiki site there –http://wiki.basiccourseoer.org/Main_Page . Mediawiki is the same base of code that is used for Wikipedia. It was cumbersome to use, and I have found a hosted wiki that is easier to use at Wikispaces. At this site, I am actively developing a wiki devoted to resources for the general education core communication course, https://basiccourseoer.wikispaces.com. This will give me a central point for collecting materials and, since it is a wiki, eventually other faculty can also contribute to it.

Faculty other than communication teachers may be interested in one page of the wiki, which lists sites for on-line content creation. The wiki looks very crude at the moment. I am hoping to spruce it up and add lots of links and content over time.

I know there are repositories for resources and many have clearly marked sections for disciplines such as communication. I think this wiki will have a narrower focus, as it is concerned with the core course in oral communication. I think this will grow in value over time. As I learn about new resources, links will be added to the wiki. I will also add material I generate, probably as PDF’s.

One example of how the resources on the wiki will grow just happened this week. I just returned from the Central States Communication Association convention. While there, I learned that one of the association’s interest group just created a web site for GIFTS (Great Ideas for Teaching Speech). With a wiki, I am able to create a link to that resource in the wiki, making it readily available to others.