How much did you spend on your textbooks this spring–$500, $600, more? How do free textbooks sound?

East Tennessee State University is now a member of the Open Textbook Network, thanks to representatives of the ETSU Charles C. Sherrod Library and its Student Advisory Council, as well as the Student Government Association. The membership will help ETSU professors choose textbooks for their courses that are available for free through the network.

“Faculty are always free to choose what textbooks they want to use,” said Pat Van Zandt, Dean of University Libraries. “I just don’t think they’ve been as aware of open resources, and so this is an effort to make them more aware and also to make them maybe more interested in developing something for their own course.”

The network “provides a growing catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks,” according to its website. In addition to materials through OTN, ETSU faculty can also create and publish their own materials for free use and submit them to the network.

The Student Library Council expressed interest in the network in September, and decided to use $5,000 of the student library fee to pay for membership in the OTN.

The network consists of 75 members, and over 600 campuses are represented through it. Faculty who go to an OTN workshop adopt the network 45 percent of the time, according to the website.

An open-source textbook system is not a new idea or something that requires membership. In fact, associate professor Jonathan Peterson already implemented this type of system for the College of Public Health at ETSU. Associate professor Patrick Brown said he uses these types of text in his health science courses help his students.

“Our goal as educators should be the education of our students,” Brown said. “We need to balance the students’ access to quality learning materials with the realities of budgetary limitations.”

Brown said in previous years more open-source materials have become available, and this has made that balance easier.

“I, as an instructor, might not get all the bells and whistles that come with a book from a major publisher, … but the fact that all of my students can access the text without any financial barrier more than makes up for it in my opinion,” he said.

Van Zandt said by having a membership with the OTN, it allows ETSU to bring official trainers from the network to teach faculty and staff how to use, adapt, adopt and create these open resources. The trainers will come to ETSU in the fall.

Professors can also modify existing open resources or create their own open materials for their courses. Van Zandt said she believes the current Student Advisory Council will ask the succeeding one to set aside a part of the library fee for faculty grants. These grants would be given to faculty members to assist them in creating or modifying open resources.

Membership with the OTN does not require professors to participate, but Van Zandt does hope it will encourage them to be aware of and find free or affordable resources for students.

“I suspect it will be a slow process, because you have to increase awareness and have faculty who are interested in actually taking the time to do it, but I also think it could increase rapidly,” Van Zandt said. “Once some people start adopting, using these resources, … I think awareness will increase. It’s well worth the effort.”