News

Susquehanna Faculty Embracing OER

In light of Open Education Week, we are highlighting professors who are currently using open resources to teach their classes this semester at Susquehanna University. We interviewed them to ask about OERs, how they are beneficial for students, and how it changes the learning environment of the classroom.


Swarna Basu is a professor of chemistry at Susquehanna University, teaching chemistry 104 this semester. He decided to use the Chemistry 2e textbook from OpenStax.


Q: Why did you decide to use an open textbook for this class?

We wanted to implement a cost-effective alternative that still offered high-quality content.

Q: Do you have any experience with students delaying a textbook purchase or not purchasing a textbook at all for a course in the past? How did this affect their performance in the class?

Yes. Students occasionally didn’t buy the book, or even when they bought it, they rarely opened it.

Q: Have you noticed a difference in how the students use the open textbook as opposed to a more traditional textbook?

As far as I know, students are accessing the book online mainly for examples and practice problems. I have not polled the class to see how many actually purchased the hard copy ($40).

Q: Are there any other advantages to using an open textbook that you’d like to mention?

The portability is helpful – we can access the book online from home and campus.

Q: Would you consider using open resources for your other courses, and why?

Yes, I would consider it, provided the book had all the appropriate content, presented clearly, as well as end-of-chapter problems and access to a solutions manual.


Jennifer Carter is an assistant professor of physics at Susquehanna University, teaching physics 100, physics 206 and last semester, using an open textbook for physics 202. This semester, she’s using the OpenStax Astronomy book and the OpenStax University Physics Volumes 2 and 3.


Q: Why did you decide to use an open textbook for this class?

I like the ease of use and the portability. Students can add notes and color-coded highlights to the text for quick reference and all demonstrations and simulations accompanying the text are embedded or easily linked to. In addition, I like that the text is very affordable for students without significant loss of quality. I sometimes wish there were more problems included and that the figures were different, but that would be true with most textbooks.

The astronomy book’s authors also have established a relationship with an online homework system called ExpertTA that is cheap ($35/semester) and easy for me and the students to use. All the problems, review activities, and group discussions within the textbook are included in the system, in addition to the instructor’s test bank. This unity of content is very attractive to me because it reduces my workload by removing the generation and most of the grading of homework problems from my list of tasks. This frees up time and mental space to create better in-class activities and labs to solidify and apply student learning.

Q: Do you have any experience with students delaying a textbook purchase or not purchasing a textbook at all for a course in the past? How did this affect their performance in the class?

I often assign reading reflections and emphasize the importance of having the text as a reference and learning tool. At the start of most semesters for which I was using a traditional textbook, I have had students in a panic because their book had not arrived, or they didn’t purchase one due to expense. They were honest in saying that they wait to see if a purchase is truly necessary. I was able to help by copying the first chapter of the textbook to give them time to purchase and receive a copy of the text, but it was still stressful for them. This experience forced me to realize that some students had the need to choose which resources to purchase for their education. I wanted to be more inclusive and using opensource, cheaper textbooks helps me to do so.

Q: Have you noticed a difference in how the students use the open textbook as opposed to a more traditional textbook?

First and foremost, I feel like more of the students actually do the reading before class because they have the textbook now. This allows me to spend less time in class introducing a topic and more time doing examples and working with students. Some of them also write about the simulations embedded in the text in their reflections, so I know they are more engaged. I think is because the barrier to use is lower than it would be for a traditional hardcopy textbook that included a CD or link to a website instead of embedded content.

Q: Are there any other advantages to using an open textbook that you’d like to mention?

I really like the portability of open textbooks. I have an OpenStax account and can access my personal notes anywhere across multiple devices. As an instructor, I also have access to all of the test banks, solutions and images from the textbook for lessons.

Q: Would you consider using open resources for your other courses, and why?

I plan to use as many open resources as I can. This semester I added the OpenStax physics textbooks after my success with the Astronomy text. Next semester I want to start using University Physics Volume I for my Physics I, Calculus based course. In the following spring I plan to use College Physics for my algebra-based physics II course. This will mean that I have course material using OpenStax texts for all the introduction physics courses we teach at SU, and my general education astronomy course.

It can be harder to use open resources in upper level courses, but I did have some success relying on a mix of open source textbooks, webpages, videos, and web-based simulations to run a Topics lab covering astronomy and astrophysics. It took a lot of effort to find suitable resources because they were not self-contained in a single textbook, but it is effort I do not need to repeat for a future Topics course and well worth it.


These are just two of others on campus using open resources for teaching. Does your professor use an open textbook? Let us know in the comments!