Let’s Talk Equity brings together Colorado State University students and librarians to talk about equity issues and solutions at CSU.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. You can also read the full transcript.
Sydney Budke is a sophomore in biomedical sciences. She is deputy director of academics at the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU), representing student interests as a liaison between faculty and students.
Christine Pawliuk is the business librarian at the CSU Libraries. She works with open educational resources programs at CSU.
What are some of the current student attitudes and challenges related to textbooks?
BUDKE: Students really just want to see their textbooks used. A lot of students feel that some of their textbooks are being overused, and some students feel that they’re being underused. I know a lot of friends who have shelled out thousands of dollars on textbooks and not touched them in a semester. And this is money that can go towards rent, food, groceries, utilities.
I think textbooks are valuable to students when they can see a direct impact on what they’re reading in a textbook and how their grade is doing—how that textbook is applying to the actual content of the course.
What are the conversations happening between students and instructors about textbooks?
BUDKE: It really just depends on your instructor and your course. Some professors are very open to addressing the costs of the textbooks that they‘re assigning, and letting students know that if they‘re having issues with the cost of the textbooks, to go to them, and they‘ll figure out a solution.
In my personal experience, I haven‘t had very many of those conversations with professors. So it’s really just a toss-up of whether or not the professor is willing to listen and acknowledge how much their textbooks cost.
What do students do if they can’t afford a textbook?
BUDKE: I’ve heard a couple of different variations on things. Some students will genuinely just wing the class if they can’t afford a textbook. They‘ll just not do the readings, not put what they need to into the class, just because they can’t afford it. So they‘ll do everything in their power to learn that information without getting the textbook. Sometimes they‘ll borrow from friends.
I’ve also heard of students where the homework comes from the textbook, and if they can’t afford the textbook access code, they’ll complete an entire class in, like, a two-week free trial period.
How does this all relate to equity? Why are textbooks an equity issue?
PAWLIUK: The way I see it is through the lens of affordability. To hear that somebody is trying to do a whole class through a trial period is… I had not heard that before. That is a little shocking to me, honestly.
We care about making education more affordable for students here. One of the ways that we talk about affordability in the Libraries is advocating to faculty about ways to reduce the cost of their textbooks.
One of the big things that we do is push more knowledge of open educational resources. These are basically openly licensed textbooks, which means that anybody on the Internet can freely share them or distribute them.
Is there any research related to student success, textbook costs, and open educational resources?
PAWLIUK: There are a few studies. One study came out of the University of Georgia, where they compared different sections of a course. Some were using open textbooks, and some were using the traditional textbooks. In the courses using open textbooks, student grades actually went up by 8.6%, which is almost an entire letter grade.
They broke out Pell-eligible students, too. A Pell Grant is basically extra assistance that’s given to economically disadvantaged students. These students actually saw a 12.3% increase in their grade when they were using open textbooks, which is more than a letter grade. So that suggests that there is a really big academic impact in using these open textbooks, especially for students who are a little bit more disadvantaged.
What are we doing right now at CSU in terms of programs or initiatives for textbook affordability and open educational resources?
PAWLIUK: For the past couple of years, the Libraries has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education to help promote open resources here at CSU. So I’ve put on workshops for faculty to teach them what open educational resources are, and invited a panel of faculty to talk about what open educational resources are like and how they implemented them.
We‘ve also given out grants to faculty to develop open textbooks or adapt some existing textbook into their course. One of our grant recipients, Medora Huseby in the Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology Department, has been really involved in creating open textbooks. She‘s working on one in her courses right now. The students are actually helping to develop it and edit it and keep it current. Last year, she won a Governor’s award for Best Open Course, which was really exciting for her and for us.
The Libraries has also been working with the CSU Bookstore to identify courses that do have low textbook costs, and to get that information into the course registration system. So that students know when they’re registering for a course which courses are going to have those low textbook costs.
What can students do to help address these challenges of textbook affordability?
BUDKE: I think the biggest thing that students can do is just bring to light this issue. With students, it’s just kind of assumed that you should be spending a lot of money on textbooks. If all these students are rising up with the same common interest, we might be able to bring change.
Another big thing is just talking to ASCSU. That’s what we’re here for: to take these student issues and really bring them to light. Because as students we do have the power to see change at this University, which is a really cool thing.
What can the Libraries do or keep doing to address these challenges?
PAWLIUK: I think we’re definitely going to be continuing our work with faculty to get more open educational resources used in their courses.
There are also some other partners on campus that we’re going to be working with. We‘ve been working with the Institute for Learning and Teaching, which helps faculty with designing new courses or revamping their courses. That’s been a really important partner for us.
I think also what we can do is work with these student groups that are going to be working on advocacy. It’s really important for them to know that we see them too. We see this issue, and there are people on campus who do want to help them.