OER opens access

By Keith Heumiller

A New Jersey community college is saving students money, time with a textbook-free math course.

Beginning this fall, students who take the MATH 021 Introductory Algebra course at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey will no longer have to buy a traditional textbook.

Instead, thanks to a new college-wide Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative, students will be able to download and print a free copy of the college’s new MATH 021 coursebook, or buy a bound copy at the college bookstore for $11.

With a potential savings of at least $59 per student, the OER program could save Brookdale students more than $100,000 in textbook costs during the 2017-18 school year.

The initiative is the brainchild of Brookdale math professors Barbara Tozzi and Linda Wang, who were granted sabbaticals in 2016 to research, design and create an OER coursebook specifically tailored to Brookdale’s MATH 021 course. The professors each taught a section of the course and spent dozens of hours working with faculty, staff, administrators and OER experts to create a full suite of materials for the “new” MATH 021, including instructor guidelines, tests, homework assignments and review sheets.

“While we were focused on OER, we were also dedicated to creating an excellent course that would help students understand introductory algebra,” Tozzi said.

A pilot program went live in the spring of 2017, with five faculty teaching seven sections of the OER course at three Brookdale different locations. Nearly 100 students enrolled, and joined their instructors in providing feedback on the new course before it was offered again this summer.

“When I saw that we didn’t have to buy a textbook I was really happy, because I didn’t get financial aid for the summer,” said second-year respiratory therapy major Matt Zaki, who took the MATH 021 course in Brookdale’s Summer II term. “I was able to save about $70 or $80, and I was able to use that money to pay some bills instead.”

Cost savings are not the only benefit of the OER initiative, however.

Because the new book and supporting materials are designed specifically for Brookdale’s MATH 021 course, students and instructors no longer have to jump from one chapter to another or wade through excess material, Tozzi and Wang said. Now classes simply progress through the book from cover to cover, creating a much simpler and more streamlined educational experience.

For third-year nursing student Matthew Gracon, it was a welcome change.

“It’s a little nicer, frankly,” said Gracon, who took the OER course this summer. “You don’t have the big textbook that you have to search through. Everything is a little more streamlined. Our instructor projects exactly what we are working on right up on the board, so we have everything right in front of us and right on the screen. It’s exactly what you need. You don’t have any excess.”

The new approach makes it easier for students to keep up with the class even through unexpected absences and challenging subject matter, said instructor Karina Aliaga, while making the course more accessible for those dealing with financial hardship.

“The truth is that when a textbook is expensive, some students may just not buy it,” Aliaga said. “And without a textbook they don’t have any external resource to compensate for that knowledge missed. They may just not understand the material. Now we are removing that impediment to their success. All students will have access to the book from day one.”

Following the successful pilot, the “textbook-free” model will be offered in all sections of MATH 021 beginning this fall. With a projected enrollment of close to 2,000 students this year, officials believe the OER course could lead to a total savings of nearly $118,000.

Keith Heumiller

Keith Heumiller is the college relations coordinator at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey.