Professors Receive Grant in Support of OER Textbook Project
LONG ISLAND CITY, NY (February 14, 2023) — Textbooks are traditional and useful learning resources for college students, but commercial texts books have been widely criticized for their high costs and restricted access. LaGuardia Community College continues to explore options for students to gain an innovative and affordable learning experience.
One of these options is Open Education Resources (OER), an alternative to commercial textbooks that have the potential to increase college affordability, access, and instructional quality.
Most recently, LaGuardia Professors of Natural Sciences Joshua Tan and Allyson Sheffield were awarded a $12,000 grant to work on an OER textbook to complement LaGuardia’s “Life in the Universe” course.
“OER materials are generally free to use, reuse, repurpose, and distribute,” said Dr. Tan. “Thus, students and instructors are afforded much better access to the educational materials than under traditional publishing.”
For many students at LaGuardia and CUNY, the cost of textbooks can be expensive. Almost 40 percent of CUNY’s students come from households with annual incomes of less than $20,000, and spending an average of $1,200 per year on books and other supplies can be the biggest obstacle to earning a degree.
In many cases, students choose not to register for courses that require expensive textbooks, or they end up withdrawing or failing courses because they cannot afford the materials. These patterns can lead to an increase in the number of years students spend in college, thereby reducing the likelihood of completing a degree.
Professors Tan and Sheffield have been working on an OER textbook to complement the “Life in the Universe” course. Dr. Sheffield said the main structure of the textbook is nearly complete, with content development underway.
“To complement the textbook, this project has developed an extensive collection of homework and lab materials, available for free through the MyOpenMath platform,” Dr. Sheffield said. “The textbook and supplementary material together will provide a zero-cost option for an introductory Astrobiology course.”
The grant will be used to complete the textbook and add additional content to the supplementary materials.
“The textbook can be used by other colleges and universities or serve as a learning resource for individuals motivated to expand their knowledge of this subject,” said Dr. Sheffield. “As NASA missions such as TESS and JWST thrive, the interest in and need for astrobiology courses will rise.”
At LaGuardia, there are typically 20-25 sections of “Life in the Universe” running each year, with roughly 20 students per section. This means an estimated 4,000 students will be impacted at LaGuardia Community College alone.
Dr. Tan said each year, there is a state-funded CUNY-administered grant to implement OER across the colleges.
“LaGuardia has benefited tremendously from this support and many courses now use OER with all its benefits (including the astronomy and astrobiology courses that we teach),” Dr. Tan said. “This grant has also funded an OER seminar run by the Center for Teaching and Learning each spring for the last three years and will be running again this year. Prof. Ian McDermott of the Library has been particularly influential in supporting OER at LaGuardia and he is also LaGuardia’s representative to the CUNY committee on OER.”
The benefits of OER are felt by faculty and students on many levels, Dr. Tan emphasizes.
“Because the licensing is open, faculty are able to be much freer and flexible with the way they use materials and distribute them to their students,” he said. “There is no concern of copyright infringement for sending a student a pdf version of a proper OER textbook, for example. Likewise, faculty can easily modify educational materials to suit their needs.”
“Students benefit because the materials are at zero cost or very low cost,” Dr. Tan added. “In the best implementation of OER, students become actively involved in the curation of educational resources under the model of ‘Open Pedagogy.’ For students at an urban university like CUNY, the weight of printed textbooks can also be burdensome so an online text helps with this.”
LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC), located in Long Island City, Queens, educates thousands of New Yorkers annually through degree, certificate, and continuing education programs. LaGuardia is a national voice on behalf of community colleges, where half of all U.S. college students study. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), the College reflects the legacy of our namesake, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the former NYC mayor beloved for his championing the underserved. Since our doors opened in 1971, our programs regularly become national models for pushing boundaries to give people of all backgrounds access to a high quality, affordable college education.