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Taking a bite out of rising textbook costs

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Elizabeth Gordon, Furman Department of Chemistry

Studies show that students can expect to spend more than $1,200 for books and materials over the span of a year. A CBSnews.com “MoneyWatch” article reports that the average cost of textbooks has shot up four times faster than the rate of inflation in the last 10 years. In fact, 65 percent of students at one time or another during their college careers say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to buying textbooks because of the expense.

Enter Open Educational Resources (OER), a moniker for high-quality teaching, learning and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose. Furman’s Elizabeth Gordon, a longtime lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, began exploring the tools in 2016 when she participated in an OER Faculty Review Program led by the Furman Libraries.

Part of the workshop requirements included researching and reviewing a current OER text. That’s when Gordon ran into Delmar Larsen, a UC Davis chemistry professor and founder and director of LibreTexts, described as ‘the world’s most popular online textbook platform.’

With Larsen’s help, Gordon began writing content for her OER in 2017—an open-source text for CHM101 (Chemistry and Global Awareness), a course for non-majors. Basically, Larsen would tag existing activities and chapters for Gordon to review. If the material suited her course, Larsen would then embed the selections in the text.

After compiling four chapters, Larsen created the Furman LibreTexts website for public use in summer 2017, and ever since, Gordon has been adding sections while teaching out of the OER.

Last fall, Gordon’s two CHM101 classes were the inaugural classes to use the newly-minted OER. Thanks to English major Hayden Cox and music major Isabella Quiros, Gordon has received assistance with editing chapters. For editing new chapters, Gordon has posted a ‘help wanted’ sign for the OER, which now boasts more than six chapters.

“For years, I’ve used a traditional textbook that had an approximate cost of $150-$250,” Gordon said. “I’ve taught around 120 students with the OER. I know this OER has saved them money and made college a little more affordable.”

For more information, contact Elizabeth Gordon in the Department of Chemistry at 864-294-3048 and elizabeth.gordon@furman.edu.

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