Are Open Textbooks as Great as You Think?

You may have heard the term “open textbooks” but if you thought it meant simply having your assigned text in your college class open at all times, your assumption would be way off.

Dr. Carrie DiMatteo, Assistant Professor of Psychology at NYSCAS, reviews the open textbook.
Dr. Carrie DiMatteo, Assistant Professor of Psychology at NYSCAS, reviews the open textbook.

An open textbook is actually a textbook that is fully accessible online and what’s more, it’s free of cost for students and teachers to use. The trend of utilizing digital textbooks in college classrooms is gaining momentum by the day and Touro College’s New York School of Career and Applied Sciences (NYSCAS) jumped on the bandwagon along with Dr. Carrie DiMatteo, Assistant Professor of Psychology. What’s more is that Touro Libraries actually spearheaded the open textbook program, coined Open Touro, and the utilization of these easily accessible texts by the department of psychology is part of this larger initiative.

“It is still a bit of a challenge for educators to find open textbooks but I was lucky because one of my former colleagues from Brooklyn College was using an open textbook in his class and developed an edition specific to his school. With this personal connection, I was able to begin utilizing it in my psychology class,” Dr. DiMatteo said.

One of the biggest advantages of using open textbooks is that they can be legally adapted by professors, making it easier to add additional material if necessary, change terminology or remove unneeded chapters.

While sometimes the rule of “you get what you pay for” applies, it doesn’t in this case. There are truly no limitations to using these digital textbooks and a professor teaching any course can elect to leverage them. An added bonus is that using these books has enabled Professor DiMatteo to witness an increase in students reading their assignments, which prompts enhanced engagement and a higher level of active participation in the classroom.

“Providing access to this important course material for all my students is monumental. It makes a major difference–previously, half of my students would be looking at me and nodding but then they couldn’t go home and read the assigned chapters because they couldn’t afford to buy the book,” she said.

Psychology student Mandie Mamanna is a single mother who previously had spent close to $250 on textbooks alone per semester. Last semester however, with the option to use this resource, she only spent $75.

“Open textbooks are helping me drastically cut costs associated with pursuing my undergraduate degree and I am now able to apply these funds towards other things including tuition payments. It makes my life easier since typically at the end of each semester I am left with these books that I will likely never use again that just take up space as they sometimes can’t be resold,” said Mamanna.

She adds that being able to print out the textbook material and then write notes directly on it is helping her to better comprehend what she is being taught. Shealso loves the fact that she doesn’t have to a carry another heavy book on her daily commute. As an added bonus, open textbooks are environmentally-friendly.

“I think open textbooks are just as beneficial to professors as they are to students because with a book you can’t easily show a page you are highlighting to your students without printing it so it drives collaboration throughout the college system,” Mamanna added.

Last fall, open textbooks were used in seven general psychology and two experimental psychology classes throughout Touro, for an estimated $14,833.41 in cost savings to students.

While most students will graduate with some student loan debt, it is because of open textbooks and professors like Dr. DiMatteo that this burden can be significantly reduced. 

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