University of Minnesota Publishes Research on Affordable Content

The Evolution of Affordable Content Efforts in the Higher Education Environment: Programs, Case Studies, and Examples, edited by Kristi Jensen and Shane Nackerud, is one of the latest books to be published by University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing on the Libraries’ Pressbooks network.

The book is a compilation of case studies that delve deeply into all facets of affordable educational content. It showcases diverse affordable content efforts across a range of higher education institutions, from the use of library licensed content, to creating and publishing open content, to inclusive access and other models from commercial publishers.

Kristi, who works with the University Libraries’ eLearning Support Initiative, says the breadth of affordable content options had been on her mind for several years.

“In a lot of settings, folks sometimes want to limit the conversation to a particular aspect of affordable content work, and in the day-to-day work that we do we found that it’s really necessary to explore all of those options so that we can meet faculty needs,” Kristi says.

In her role as Program Development Lead for the eLearning Support Initiative at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Kristi liaises with campus partners, including the Office of Information Technology, the Center for Educational Innovation (focused on teaching and learning), the Disability Resource Center, collegiate academic technology units, and the University Bookstores. She is the co-chair of the Campus Course Content Strategy Planning group, which includes students, faculty, IT professionals, and academic technologists. The group looks at data about the course content faculty are using. In addition, Kristi co-leads UMN’s Partnership for Affordable Content grant program, which offers mini-grants to faculty who want to write books, create digital course packs to replace more expensive materials, or utilize other strategies to make course materials more affordable.

“Over time we felt like there was a need to explain the conversation about affordable content beyond just OER,” she says. “And so the book was kind of like the culmination of that desire to help people understand this complex environment and all of the options that are really happening in so many places.”

Shane, for his part, is the Technology Lead for Library Initiatives at the University of Minnesota Libraries. He is part of the eLearning Support Initiative, where he identifies tech tools and works with projects such as the open textbook publishing initiative and Digital Course Pack project. Along with developer John Barneson, he manages the university’s Pressbooks instance.

“We tried with this book to really promote all the different things you can do to advocate for  affordable content on your campus or to make it happen–OER being one, digital course packs could be another, and the use of reserves–library licensed resources, fair use claims, freely available content on the web…there’s just a whole lot of options,” Shane says. “We can argue that the more options that you choose, the more affordable content you will have for your students.”

The University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing issues a call for proposals for new publications twice a year. Kristi wrote up a proposal for the affordable content book.

Their project was selected, and Kristi, who has been a librarian at UMN for 14 years, applied for her first professional development leave, which gave her two six-week blocks of time off.

In the first block, she wrote an author guide and agreements, communicated with authors, and analyzed student survey data for the chapter she would ultimately write.

Because of their work and the conferences they attended with peers at other universities, both Shane and Kristi knew individuals who had worked on different types of affordable content projects to reach out to in the hopes that they might contribute to the book. They also put out an open call, which Kristi says received traction on listservs popular among librarians.

More than 50 people, including the editors, contributed to what ended up being 26 chapters.

“That’s a lot of chapters about affordable content,” Shane said. “We’re happy that people felt so strongly about it to contribute.”

Once Kristi and Shane knew who the authors would be and what chapters they would write, they put the abstracts from selected chapters together into book format in Pressbooks. They shared the public book shell with the authors, so they could understand the context in which the work would live, and, if needed, connect with their fellow authors.

While the authors drafted their chapters, Kristi got back to work. In her second six-week sabbatical, she worked on the content editing. Shane and Kristi both edited the chapters, which they sent first to the authors to review, then to a professional copy editor provided by UMN Libraries Publishing for editing.

Shane says they enjoyed working with the copy editor, Sue Everson, and that she played a crucial role in the book’s development.

“Editing a book is not trivial,” Shane says. “It’s so much work to edit a book of this size.”

Following the edit, they sent the chapters back to the authors for a second review.

Next, Shane imported the chapters into Pressbooks and styled them with consistent visual elements, such as pull quotes, tables, and other formatting.

“We promote this tool to faculty,” Shane says of Pressbooks. “So we’re going to use this tool for our own open content as well.”

Kristi and Shane say they found the Pressbooks interface easy and helpful for formatting the work.

“I was able to go in there and more quickly create this openly licensed book than I could if I wanted to use something like InDesign,” Shane says. “Pressbooks made it very fast and easy.”

Rearranging the chapters was easy using the drag and drop feature on the Organize dashboard. Shane used pull quotes to create emphasis and break up long pages of text. He also used some CSS to customize various elements. Colored textboxes helped highlight important information. The editors also inserted clickable images and created an author index easily in the backmatter that links to chapters with authors’ names. They were pleased with the fact they were able to export and make the book available in different formats for download from the book homepage.

“It’s so easy to create all those things,” Kristi says. “Not just in creating this book, but working with faculty on creating books, it is just so streamlined and easy in the Pressbooks environment.”

Kristi says she was grateful to have a partner and colleague on the project.

“I don’t think you can do something like this alone,” she says.

The Evolution of Affordable Content Efforts coverShane and Kristi promoted the completed book through similar channels, distributing it through library listservs, the Unizin listserv, on Twitter, through word of mouth, and at conferences. The book had its official launch at the Open Textbook Network’s Summer Institute, with several authors in the room. They’re hoping for some press coverage from higher education publications and are also looking out for opportunities to do webinars on the book with related organizations.

The UMN Pressbooks instance has Google Analytics data tracking activated, so they know that the book received approximately 5,300 page views in its first month of release.

Shane says it is getting about 100 hits a day now.

The complete work is 26 chapters, but the editors intentionally built in modularity. Kristi says she doesn’t expect most readers to read them straight through in one sitting.

Even within individual chapters, they consistently included an intro at the top and a summary at the end, which she hopes will help the potential reader scan and quickly figure out which chapters they would like to dive deeper into or which will be most relevant for their purposes.

“My hope would be that people find the chapters that resonate with them,” Kristi says. “In this case, when you’re doing case studies and examples and projects, it should definitely be something where people can find the type of institution that they’re at. Are they at a private institution? They can find the private institution chapters. Are they at a large public institution? They can find those easily.”

Kristi is not quite ready to think about a second edition, especially when another leave might not be possible anytime soon. But she is considering an annual blog post, which might include an update to certain chapters. Then, they could link to those blog posts from within the book.

Also, she says there were a few voices that, despite all efforts, they weren’t able to find and include in Version 1. For instance, there were no student authors, and community colleges were not represented as well as she had hoped. These too might be areas for expansion.

Kristi and Shane hope the finished work will be of interest to anybody in higher education–not just librarians, but administrators, educational technologists, and anyone thinking about retention issues or enhancing teaching and learning.

“From my perspective, the work that we are doing here at the UMN is work to change culture, and the way that culture changes is a little bit at a time,” Kristi says. “And it is faculty and other colleagues hearing about it not just from us but from others. The book has all of these voices. So it demonstrates to faculty and others that we talk to that this work is going on at a wide range of universities by a wide range of people.”

Shane says he was happy to be part of an important conversation around affordable content and promote the many models that are out there.

“Hopefully if people read the book they will realize that libraries have a lot to offer in terms of affordable content beyond OER and in addition to OER,” Shane says. “I think we have a nice toolkit that we provide to faculty that are interested in this, and I hope makes a difference in the lives of students.”

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