Q&A with Dr. Andrew Feldstein, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Reginald F. Lewis School of Business, Virginia State University
What role have open textbooks played in revamping the business school curriculum at Virginia State University?
In the spring of 2010, the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business Virginia State University began the challenging process of creating an integrated core curriculum as part of our goal to increase retention and graduation rates through technology-based solutions. An important part of this “revolution of excellence” was finding the best way to deliver content to students in a digital format, with the ability to choose when, where, and how to deliver that content.
Textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge presented themselves as a viable solution to the problem of content delivery through their open licensing model. The family of Creative Commons licenses offered a good balance between the traditional, button-down “all rights reserved” copyright license and the more free-wheeling, open-source model. Flat World’s use of a Creative Commons open license, and its rigorous editorial process, offered the best of both worlds. Our talks led to an innovative institutional licensing agreement that we implemented in the fall of 2010.
How does the institutional licensing model work?
The institutional licensing model is based on a per-student, per-course seat license that gives students free, unlimited digital access to course content without needing a broadband connection. This was important since we believed that students would have limited broadband access. If reading the textbook online was the only available option, students wouldn’t have sufficient access to course materials. The seat license approach provided multiple ways for students to download book chapters and complete books. All the textbooks were available on the web, as mobi files, ePub files, and as print-it-yourself PDF downloads. Some texts could be downloaded as Mp3 files. Students had the option to buy a physical book. For students with print disabilities, the texts were available in BRF (Braille Ready Format) and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) formats.
How have faculty and students reacted to VSU’s first open textbook project? What were the biggest misconceptions?
The biggest misconceptions were the very limited perception held by faculty and students of the extent of the functionality available in open textbooks. Most had a very narrow definition of an e-book as merely a book that you could read online. There was definitely a learning curve for the other features and options.
Can you share any metrics so far on the impact that open textbooks have had on savings for students, retention rates, GPA?
Because we have purchased seat licenses for our students in the first two semesters of this program, the students were able to access all course content at no charge. Based on an average of $100 for a business textbook and approximately 1,360 seat licenses in the first two semesters, we have saved students approximately $136,000.
There is some preliminary data showing that students who registered their Flat World license got better grades than those who didn’t. There is also some early indication of improved retention. We’re working now to document this information. It is, however, difficult to capture since most of the courses using Flat World content are new to the curriculum, including freshman Intro to Business course and our nine-credit junior year Integrated Core course.
Looking ahead, what kind of innovations would you like to see at VSU and other institutions as more open textbooks and open educational resources become available?
Flat World’s digital content has put us on the road to the hyperlinked, interactive experience we are building for our students. The ability to add, change, and reorder content has given faculty new flexibility, but digital delivery is still a moving target. The experience is changing and improving by leaps and bounds. New platforms and the tremendous growth in tablet computing has spurred designers to create new apps that will make the experience of content delivery more like the explorative experience we envisioned early on. The type of open content created by Flat World will help to make this a reality sooner than later.
Do you have any advice to faculty who may be considering adopting open textbooks?
Support this initiative! In the long run it will create more learning and teaching opportunities as the platform allows for more collaboration and interaction around the content. Look outside the traditional textbook box and take advantage of the many opportunities created by digital content.