Ginger Lucas, LMSW, clinical associate professor and director of online and hybrid programs at University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW), is part of the cohort of UH faculty promoting student success by facilitating free and immediate access to course materials. Lucas, in collaboration with additional instructors, received an award from the UH Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP) to create open educational resources (OER) for SOCW 6306: Social Work Practice Skills and SOCW 6308: Human Diversity and Development.
Now in its fifth award cycle, ATIP has improved access to affordable education for over 11,000 UH students by supporting faculty who adopt, modify, or create OER to replace a commercial textbook in their courses. This includes the adoption of existing no-cost resources; modification/adaptation of existing OER; or creation of OER, particularly open learning materials such as lecture slides, test banks, quizzes, lesson plans, or videos.
Since its launch in 2018, ATIP has helped achieve approximately $1.4 million in textbook cost savings.
The process for adopting the alternative textbook for Human Diversity and Development was “reasonably easy,” said Lucas. “I found a current, open-access textbook that I knew could be the backbone of the course. I knew I would want to supplement that textbook with other open-access resources to provide diverse approaches to the material.”
The alternative textbook for SOCW 6306, a course for which Lucas and Shelley Gonzalez, assistant director of field education and assistant clinical faculty, were awarded an ATIP incentive, was adopted beginning in 2020 and has benefited 172 students, with estimated savings of $30,091 in one year. For the Human Diversity and Development OER, implemented in 2022, 144 students have been impacted with estimated savings of $28,792 in one year.
Cost reduction is just one of the many benefits students enjoy with the implementation of OER. Students’ assessment of the utility and quality of alternative textbooks in social work courses are positive. They are reporting a wider range of voices and high relevance to current practice in OER material, with greater accessibility and ease of use over traditional textbooks. OER tend to remain applicable even after the course is completed. “Students can take with them and reference [OER] once they are practicing social workers,” Lucas noted. “They appreciate materials that are accessible on the go. I integrated videos and podcasts that they could listen to during their commute.”
Lucas cites several reasons for choosing to adopt an alternative textbook, not the least of which is removing financial barriers to academic success. “Integrating a variety of open-access learning materials such as videos, journal articles, and textbooks increases the accessibility of the course content, and allows us to be creative in the sources we choose to teach the content to different learning styles,” she said. “It helps our curriculum stay current, addressing the most recent trends in social work practice. In addition, incorporating OER allow us to provide diverse perspectives, encouraging critical thinking.”
While selecting and evaluating material took time, Lucas found support from colleagues. “Once you begin looking for alternatives to textbooks, you will find many resources, and it helps to collaborate with other faculty to make final decisions,” she said.
For instructors who are considering OER, Lucas encourages them to reach out to the UH Libraries department of Open Education Services. “The librarians, especially Ariana Santiago, are so helpful and always available to answer questions and provide support when integrating new course materials,” Lucas said.
“I’m pleased that UH Libraries has been able to support instructors in adopting OER to remove the cost of textbooks for multiple social work courses,” said Santiago, head of Open Education Services. “It’s great to see GCSW faculty leveraging ATIP to make a positive impact on student success.”