Looking past textbooks

January 30, 2017

For students, one of the greatest costs, aside from tuition, is textbooks. Prices often reach into the hundreds of dollars for a single subject and taking several subjects a semester can increase those costs exponentially. Those financial obligations often come at a high price for students, many of whom are using NAITSA’s food bank.

“It’s crazy how much usage we get from that,” said Students’ Association President John Perozok. “It’s great that students are using it but it’s sad to see how many students have to use it, so when it comes to another $250 textbook, why?”

Perozok has been working hard on a project to ease the financial burden for students when it comes to their textbooks. In the recent election for NAITSA president, his platform centred on creating a network of Open Educational Resources, OERs for short, at NAIT.

“The only cost to a student would be printing,” remarks Perozok.

“OERs are educational resources that can be videos, quizzes, assignments or full textbooks that are copyrighted under creative commons that makes them foundationally free digital files.”

Such a monumental shift is not an easy task but Perozok sees a future free of the debilitating cost of publisher controlled textbooks.

“What I would love to see is that slowly teachers begin to move away from these McGraw Hill, Pearson Publishing textbooks and start adopting these free resources and full textbooks for their courses as the required textbook,” adds Perozok.

“Here at NAIT, what I’ve been doing a lot of is having conversations with administration. I and a librarian from the Learning and Teaching Commons gave a presentation in academic council (a subcommittee of the board of governors) for Dr. Glenn Feltham, different faculty and staff from across NAIT, about OERs. We received lots of positive feedback from that meeting. It has been a good push.”

Perozok admits there are challenges to meeting the goal of adequate OERs as well as ones that are suitable for the NAIT programs.

“Some of the work we’ve been doing relates to how we currently pick resources, who’s involved, how do we ensure it’s the best resource, what is the financial model around it. The really important people that need to be involved are at the table. It’s a broad group of people that come together to talk about learning resources and I am the student representative on that committee. There are a core group of people there from different areas that are big supporters of OERs. We want to get that conversation going. It will take time, but in the years to come students will start to see more OERs come.”

For Perozok, it is the outside forces working against this movement he finds most frustrating.

“It is the publishers that are making it inaccessible for students when it comes to budgeting and finances. The prices that they charge are unreal. It’s not Shop at NAIT, it’s Pearson and McGraw Hill. The publishers are making it easy to just stay with the traditional style of textbook.”

Perozok has found an ideal partner on campus to help with the fight to lower costs.

“I know Shop at NAIT works really hard at trying to figure out the best way to get textbooks and content to students. They’ve got the buyback program, the rental program that is brand new. They are doing a lot of awesome things for students.”

For Perozok and the OER team, a growing awareness throughout campus has been a big accomplishment.

“There was an Alberta open educational resource committee that the government launched in 2013 and was given $2 million for grant funding and research opportunities. The free coffee that we gave away at the CAT building was funded through that committee.”

“The majority of people that showed up at the CAT building had no idea that this (OERs) existed. It was a good awareness piece and good to get people talking. We gave out nearly 500 coffee tickets and talked to over 500 students which was, in my opinion, a huge success. It was cool to see people talking.”

“I’d love to do a couple more of these coffee talks in the coming weeks. My small goal would be to talk to another 1,000 students by the end of the year to promote it there and continue to promote it to administration and the people that can make the change happen.”

“Open education week is coming up in March, I hope to do something myself that week to promote OERs at NAIT.”

Perozok encourages students to check out the OER website and get involved.

“We have a web page naitsa.ca/oer/ that we are directing people to. Have a look at the site, there are a bunch of repositories from that page that I would encourage people to search through. Look for a subject that you’re taking or going to be taking. If you’re in an intro course likely you can find something specifically for your course.”

– A.J. Shewan, Issues Editor
Image by Helvin Nyoliman