College students often struggle trying to afford costly textbooks. Although many different online sites offer textbooks at more competitive prices than the on-campus bookstores, two University of West Georgia (UWG) professors decided that free would be an even better deal. Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) awarded Dr. Mark Kunkel, psychology professor, and Dr. Kathie Barrett, political science professor the Textbook Transformation Grant, which allows students to replace textbooks with free electronic texts in certain psychology and political science courses.
Kunkel and Barrett decided to apply for a grant in an effort to help students save on textbooks and additionally, to aid in their teaching processes. They also planned to track students’ enhanced learning and their academic performances as they began working in the electronic text.
“We will be working during the spring, summer and fall 2016 semesters to incorporate online text materials in our course materials and to incorporate our course materials in the online text,” Kunkel said.
On average, between 180-280 students enroll in the Introduction to General Psychology course each semester at UWG, and the required textbook ranges from $30 to over $200. Kunkel attests that among the many students who take this class, only a few actually buy the text, which makes it difficult for him and other professors to effectively teach the material. He plans to replace the pricey textbook for the course through OpenStax, a site that offers free digital textbooks.
“It will save each student approximately $200 per semester and permit us to more thoroughly integrate the textbook in a way that we hope contributes to retention, progress and graduation efforts,” he said.
Along with replacing the physical textbooks and incorporating existing lecture notes, course activities and discussion groups in the text, the online content will also drastically change the lessons of Introduction to General Psychology and give them more access to study the roots of psychology.
“This is important because our Department of Psychology, rooted historically in a tradition termed broadly Humanistic Psychology, has not had access previously to an introductory textbook that addresses psychology as a human science from this theoretical perspective,” he said.
Kunkel hopes that the financial concerns are not the only thing that will come from the grant but through more effective teaching that will help students feel accompanied as they read.
“I hope the text helps in two ways,” Kunkel said. “Allowing all students equal and free access to the text, and even more importantly, allowing me, as a course instructor, to include my notes, links and external assignments in the text itself.”
The ALG is a University System of Georgia initiative (USG) that provides grant-supported opportunities for faculty, libraries and institutions to transform learning materials into lower costs. It was founded in August 2014 and of the 48 proposals received in its very first round of proposals, only 30 grants were awarded to 19 USG institutions.
Although the awarded grant proposals proved relatively significant, the applicants had to go through an extensive process, which include a completed proposal form, letters from sponsors and oftentimes follow-up questions and interviews before being selected. Based on requirements like the feasibility and reasonableness of the plan of action as well as the adherence to the proposal guidelines, it required hard work from dedicated applicants.
“Grant application is a long, tiring, difficult process,” Kunkel said. “It is rather unlike the other things I do as a teacher and a scholar, but I knew that the purpose of the grant—saving students and students’ families money and assuring equal access to a text—was worth the effort.”
As the project continues to be finalized, Kunkel hopes that more psychology professors try and convert to digital texts.
“We teach almost 800 students each semester in General Psychology, and it would be a huge savings and learning benefit if all [professors] were able to use a common text.”