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Cutting college costs, one book at a time

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

This spring, Deanna Cozart crossed a milestone with her EDUC 2120 class: Students could get all the course materials for free.

This achievement, which incorporates a selection of journal articles, newspaper clippings and other references into classroom discussions and lessons, was possible thanks to a $10,800 grant from a new program from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia called Affordable Learning Georgia. The funding allowed her to assemble the material in one open-source format that all her students could access.

Now, armed with a new, $30,000 grant from the second round of grants from Affordable Learning Georgia, Cozart has joined with Brian Dotts, both professors in the College of Education's Department of Educational Theory and Practice, to develop a full set of open-source lesson plans and materials for both EDUC 2120 and Dotts' class, EDUC 2110.

The grant is one of 27 given out around the state, totaling more than $500,000, to support the adoption of open, no-cost or low-cost learning materials for courses throughout Georgia's colleges and universities. Funded through the Georgia legislature, these "Textbook Transformation Grants" focus on reducing the costs of books while enhancing Georgia's virtual library.

Cozart's and Dott's project is one of two from the University of Georgia to receive funding—another project is redesigning the Introduction to Psychology course (PSYC1101) to include a free, open-source textbook now available through Rice University.

By using sharable, open-source technology, Cozart and Dotts said, it not only keeps the costs down but also allows them to share materials with other professors around the state. The classes they teach are required in all educator-training programs, so it makes sense that instructors can borrow from each other's materials.

The initial grant allowed Cozart to curate her class materials, which she's using this semester in lieu of a traditional textbook. The more recent grant allows Cozart and Dotts to work with staff in UGA's Office of Online Learning to create a platform for others to access the materials.

"Our partnership will create module shells, so we can put everything together for our courses," she said, adding that Keith Bailey, director of the Office of Online Learning, has a similar vision to create a portal of open-source materials. "He's really wanted UGA to move into this model of sharing and no cost."

The additional money will also help Cozart and Dotts develop an enhanced lesson plan to tie together the selected readings. Right now, the class materials are supported by in-person lectures. But the team is developing a narrative to bring everything together, along with ideas for class projects and other materials, which would make the course materials suitable for online learning too.

"The plan is to have learning objectives for each module," she said. "So when we do this, we will have the control to update when we need to."

This will come in handy when teaching topics such as gender identity or immigration policies, which can sometimes change dramatically in a matter of weeks — and far too quickly for any traditional textbook to keep up with.

And by creating the narrative around curated readings, Cozart said she's discovered a whole new benefit to having open-source materials.

"It's incredibly liberating to feel like I'm not bound by a table of contents, and there is a lot more flexibility as an instructor," she said. "If it's something I'm interested in, I'm going to convey that enthusiasm in my teaching."

Dotts credits Cozart for gathering a team to help break new ground with open-source materials. This includes College of Education doctoral students Tanya Walker and James Gurney, and instructional designers Amy Ingalls and James Castle with the Office of Online Learning.

Dotts' EDUC 2110 class, which focuses on educational policy throughout history, already has a lot of open-source historical documents relevant to the coursework. The grant will now help him customize the lessons further, rather than being beholden to a textbook.

"She's done a great job organizing a group of us," he added. "The technology, educational designers, doctoral students and professors—she's the mover behind all of this."

But Cozart said it comes down to one simple, eye-opening fact: The average student spends $1,200 a year on textbooks.

"If you can keep the costs of higher education down, that's beneficial to all of us," she said.

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