The Lee Library at Brigham Young University initiated separate surveys of faculty and upper division undergraduate students to gauge attitudes toward open textbooks as well as to ascertain the impact of textbook cost on students' decisions to register for courses and purchase required or recommended textbooks. The study highlighted some intriguing perceptions and feelings about student textbook costs and faculty perceptions of the same.
Students report that they would use the savings that open textbooks afford them to meet personal financial needs including housing, healthy eating choices, and savings. The students report postponing, avoiding, or dropping certain courses because of textbook prices. Perhaps most significantly, registering for or completing fewer courses because of textbook costs causes students to delay graduation and can add to the overall expense of an education. The aggregated influence of approximately one-fifth of all students taking fewer courses because of textbook costs can be significant. The fact that over one third of the students actually select specific sections of a course because of textbook costs is interesting because it implies that textbook cost is a larger barrier than is often discussed or acknowledged.
Although most faculty respondents indicated that they know the price of textbooks they assigned, more than two thirds were not aware of OER alternatives. When presented with a description of open textbooks, more than half indicated that they would appreciate help learning more and 91% said they would be willing to use a suitable, open alternative. Faculty motivation for adopting OER included a desire to help alleviate costs to students but also to encourage students to have access to updated content. Although the barriers of adopting OER are high, faculty who are aware may be willing to invest themselves in adopting OER with the proper institutional training and support.
In the absence of an administrative directive or institutional policy to consider the affordability of course materials, the library formed a partnership with university's Student Advisory Council, the Center for Teaching & Learning, the Copyright Licensing Office, the BYU Store, and the the Student Center for Financial Management and Planning to raise awareness and to help find solutions that support faculty efforts to adopt or create open textbooks. Utilizing the results of the two surveys, a variety of strategies were implemented included determining the textbook affordability landscape on campus and highlighting best practices involving existing or new adoptions of open textbooks; instituting a donor-funded pilot project to assist with converting materials in existing courses from commercial to open textbooks; educational campaigns focused on informing students of the financial benefits of using OER; training and using subject librarians, who already have established relationships of trust with faculty around campus, on resources that support the creation and use of disciplinary-based OER; and engaging and training students-especially student leaders-to become more informed and articulate consumers of the resources that support their classroom learning experiences.