UHV experiments with free electronic textbooks

When it’s time for University of Houston-Victoria students to read the textbook in Gino Tozzi’s “Texas Politics & Local Government” course, most students pull out their cellphones.

Gino Tozzi

Since spring 2014, Tozzi, a UHV political science lecturer, has supplied the textbook electronically at no charge to students taking two of his courses. Students access the textbook on mobile devices or can print it out for the fraction of the cost of a traditional textbook.

“It’s been useful from cost, accessibility and flexibility perspectives,” Tozzi said. “The textbook is well organized so that every week we go over one chapter. For traditional textbooks, faculty members don’t have control over how it’s ordered, so we end up hopping around at times.”

Tozzi’s foray into what’s known as “open educational resources” came about from a pilot program organized by the Victoria College/University of Houston-Victoria Library. The library received a $2,000 stipend from the UHV Provost’s Office to encourage faculty members to adopt free or reduced-price textbooks.

Open educational resources are educational materials that are free or a much lower cost than a traditional textbook. They are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning they can be reused without cost or permission.

“Open educational resources can cover a lot of different things,” said Lori Williamson, access services librarian at the VC/UHV Library. “It can be an actual textbook that is put together by a faculty member and peer-reviewed. It can be a conglomeration of things, such as film clips, slides and articles. There is no loss in quality of information.”

Lori Williamson

Williamson said open educational resources are growing in popularity because of rising textbook costs and the practice of coming out with new editions every couple of years. This takes away resale possibilities.

Before the pilot program, the textbook used in Tozzi’s “Texas Politics & Local Government” cost $112 and the textbook in “U.S. Government” was $99. The average cost of textbooks for a freshman taking 12 credit hours in the U.S. is $780, Williamson said.

“Students benefit by cost savings, but there are a lot of advantages for faculty members, as well,” she said. “They have more control over the information presented since the faculty member can use what he wants instead of what a publisher decides; plus, the information can be easily updated.”

Tozzi found a U.S. government textbook from He turned it into a PDF, and that became the textbook for the class. For his “Texas Politics & Local Government” course, he combined several different resources.

Some of it came from the Texas Politics Project, a textbook that was in the works at the time by faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin. He added to it materials from the Texas State Historical Association, different governmental resources, the Texas Fact Book and a study guide from an adjunct professor.

“There were a number of resources about Texas; it’s just they were scattered throughout the Internet,” he said.

Tozzi said a few of his students initially were concerned because it was not a printed textbook. Two students went to the library to print and bind a textbook. The library charged $29.50 for one book and $14.60 for the other, Williamson said.

Tozzi noticed students were more likely to read the text on a screen than from a textbook. A survey taken after the first semester confirmed it.

Of the 87 students surveyed, 92 percent responded they would take another class that used open educational resources. About 80 percent responded they fully agreed to a statement asking whether they preferred using open educational resources rather than traditional textbooks. When asked to rate the benefits of electronic textbooks, the most frequent answers were less cost, more environmentally friendly and greater portability.

Williamson would like more faculty members – especially in core classes such as algebra, history and biology – to consider the benefits of open educational resources. After attending a conference about the subject, she put together a library guide at that explains the benefits and provides links to open textbooks and websites that have open content.

Tozzi said there is a growing interest among publishers in open access, particularly in the scientific field. He is an associate editor at De Gruyter Open, the second-largest open access publisher in the world. The Poland-based academic press publishes about 400 scholarly journals across all major disciplines. The company is starting a political science collection and a number of authors have contacted Tozzi about pursuing an open access textbook about presidential rhetoric.

While more publishers and foundations are getting on board, the biggest factor for whether open educational resources become mainstream will depend on students, Tozzi said.

“If students demand free or low-cost textbooks, it eventually will happen,” he said. This would be a major change, and most major changes in higher education are student-driven.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro