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NDUS seeks free online textbooks for students

North Dakota University System students will get a break on text-book costs under a proposal from the system office.

Tanya Spilovoy, NDUS director of distance education and state authorization, said the Legislature’s Higher Education Funding Committee responded positively last week to her proposed plan to train faculty members to use free online textbooks in place of traditional books.


“I’m giving them training and opportunity to learn about it and faculty who are not interested at all in doing open textbooks don’t have to, so it’s purely self-selective,” she said.

According to documents Spilovoy presented to the committee, NDUS students each pay an estimated average of $1,100 per year for textbooks.


Her proposal would create a partnership with the University of Minnesota, which put together its own library of free online textbooks in 2012. Spilovoy said this would be the first step in moving toward using other free resources, such as vetted educational videos and interactive online tools.

“We really want to introduce it to people slowly and get them used to the idea before we delve into stuff that’s a little more unknown and little more technology savvy,” Spilovoy said.

The State Board of Higher Education approved a budget of $500,000 for open textbooks. While that budget is a long way from being approved by the Legislature, Spilovoy’s proposal would use funding to provide incentives for faculty to attend open-textbook training.

After training, each NDUS institution would have to come up with its own system of implementation.

“This is an opportunity for faculty, but the faculty is in control of the curriculum they choose,” Spilovoy said. “That’s why giving them ownership of this is important.”


David Ernst, chief information officer at the U of M’s College of Education and Human Development, has traveled the country helping other schools, such as Purdue University and Oregon State University, get comfortable with open textbooks.

Ernst said that, according to a survey of almost all the faculty members he has worked with, 14 percent had already adopted curriculum using open textbooks and 39 percent said they planned to do so in the future.

“In higher education, faculty’s academic freedom is probably the most important thing they have,” he said. “Their right to choose their course material, basically anything academic, is their call and all we can do and all that’s appropriate to do is educate them about open educational resources, specifically open textbooks. You answer questions and help remove barriers.”

While the U of M library that NDUS students would use only has 160 titles, most of which are in math and science, Ernst said it is constantly growing. Books are added by companies and publishers that register certain books under open copyrights.

There have been more than 167,000 visits to the library since it opened, an average of about 200 per day.

“I think (open textbooks) are almost becoming the rule as opposed to the exception,” Ernst said.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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