The Libraries announces its spring 2023 Alt-Textbook Grants to faculty

The NC State University Libraries' Alt-Textbook grant program saves students on textbook costs and helps faculty teach better.

The NC State University Libraries' Alt-Textbook grant program saves students on textbook costs and helps faculty teach better.

The Libraries has awarded its spring 2023 Alt-Textbook Grants to eleven unique courses across the university. The program’s support will directly impact over 1638 students and save them a total of $113,860 this semester.

The spring 2023 Alt-Textbook faculty awardees are:

  • Anna Gibson, English
  • Beth Ritter, Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship
  • Carlos Goller, Honors
  • Dimitri Mitin, Political Science
  • Erin McKenney, Applied Ecology
  • Fun Wu, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Jessica Young Schmidt and Sara Heckman, Computer Science
  • Jodi Hall, Social Work
  • Julia McKeown, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Nathan Williams, Parks, Recreation, and Tourism
  • Tommy Jenkins, English

Since its inception in 2014, the Libraries Alt-Textbook program has offered small grants to faculty to create cost-free alternatives to traditional commercial textbooks. This mini-grant approach encourages faculty to adopt or create open educational resources (OERs) that the Libraries can consult on and assist in finding. Most faculty applicants cite concerns over student costs as their primary reason for applying—thus far, 84 Alt-Textbook grants have saved NC State students $10.7 million in textbook costs.

But Alt-Textbook isn’t only about reducing the cost of course materials and saving financially stressed students money. It’s also about improving—and even customizing—the textbooks that NC State instructors assign their students.

Jessica Young Schmidt and Sara Heckman, both Computer Science professors, teach two introductory series courses: CSC 116 and CSC 216. The courses introduce their students to computing through programming concepts in Java with an emphasis on software engineering—especially software testing.

“Software engineering and testing topics are typically not covered in introductory computer science textbooks,” Schmidt and Heckman say. “We pursued the Alt-Textbook Grant because we wanted a free textbook for our students that follows the structure of our course and uses the desired language/terminology. We could then complement the standard instruction on programming with key software engineering concepts.”

Schmidt and Heckman are working with Libraries staff to decide on the best format for the textbook, which combines content from existing open textbooks with original materials that the instructors have written. “We’ll reduce costs for students while also creating a textbook that better aligns with how we teach the materials in our courses,” they note.

Other instructors turn to open textbooks through Alt-Textbook as part of supporting a community of practice in their field. They can share their open course materials with fellow instructors at other institutions without bogging down in expensive permissions and licensing requirements. This has brought Julia McKeown, an Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences, back for her third grant through the program this year.

“One of the primary reasons to pursue these grants is that I wanted students to have access to open material and content to help avoid the expenses and restrictions associated with textbooks,” McKeown says. “Further, it has allowed me to create material that can be distributed to others in the field to use in their courses.”

McKeown finds that open materials allow her to include more recent content and information more relevant to what she’s teaching. They can be updated faster, are distributed easily, and can incorporate richer multimedia content. She has used open textbooks, open source software, open digital repositories, and created her own materials that are then openly distributed to others.

“The Libraries has been essential in locating materials, providing resources, and giving ideas of how to meet my goals in each course,” McKeown says. “To the extent possible, my goal has always been to replace all of the traditionally published books and materials with open materials and resources. Through this grant program I have been able to do that in all the courses I teach including the final course that I am working on this semester. Once that is done I will be using open textbooks and materials in all my courses meaning that students who take a course from me do not need to purchase or rent textbooks or any other materials.”