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Liberating course materials from the textbook industry

How Oregon State’s Affordable Learning Grant supports faculty in getting started with open educational resources

By Elena Moffet

Whether you’re struggling to find a suitable textbook for your course or want to remove learning barriers for your students, there has never been a better time to explore the world of open educational resources. 

For John Lambrinos, an associate professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, the motivation was twofold. 

“I needed a text for my Ecology of Managed Ecosystems course, but none were available that really matched the subject matter,” he says. “I briefly thought of going with a commercial publisher, but the textbook industry is more a profit-making racket than a public service.”

Even with the desire and motivation already there for Lambrinos, writing an original textbook is a huge time commitment. The push to finally make it happen came in the form of Oregon State’s Affordable Learning Grant, which provides Oregon State faculty with up to $15,000 in department-to-department funding to adopt, adapt or author an open educational resource for their face-to-face, online or hybrid course.

“The main thing the Affordable Learning Grant did was formalize the commitment,” says Lambrinos. The funds are nice, but they have a small impact on carving out time to write the book.”

For Lambrinos, the grant transformed OSU’s Open Educational Resources Unit into a kind of accountability partner — with frequent check-ins on progress, help navigating the publishing process, graphic design support and even some editorial feedback.

The cover of John Lambrinos' open educational resource, titled "A Natural History of the Anthropocene"

Lambrinos published “A Natural History of the Anthropocene” as an open educational resource. This means the book is available at no cost to students, and faculty all over the world can adopt and adapt the text.

His new book, “A Natural History of the Anthropocene,” officially published in January 2023. Written in the style of a natural history guide, it’s an engaging overview of biodiversity that helps students understand how humans historically shaped — and continue to shape — our natural world.

Lambrinos’ book is freely available for anyone to read online, and it carries an open license. This means professors around the world can now adopt or adapt the text for their courses and at no cost to their students.

The Open Educational Resources Unit understands that time constraints are a challenge for every professor teaching and researching today. That’s partly why the Affordable Learning Grant offers funding not only for authoring a textbook, but for adopting and adapting them as well. 

“We know that 61% of Oregon State students don’t buy their textbooks because of the cost,” says Stefanie Buck, director of the Open Educational Resources Unit. “That’s a huge accessibility issue, and so we want to demystify open educational resources and incentivize faculty to get involved.” 

The goal of the grant program is to continue to replace as many conventional textbooks as possible. Not only does this increase access to knowledge, but it also ensures curriculum is easy to update in our rapidly-changing world.

For other Oregon State faculty who are interested in exploring OER, Lambrinos advises that authoring an open resource “is going to take longer to complete than you think.” He also recommends that faculty grant recipients get creative in their use of funds, such as “traveling to interview experts” in the field you’re writing about. 

Lastly, he thinks you might be surprised by the options that are out there.

“The range of OER options and their quality have greatly improved over the years,” says Lambrinos. “I think that there are diminishing situations where a commercial textbook provides a superior learning resource for students.”


You can learn more about the different funding options and how to apply for an Affordable Learning Grant on the Open Educational Resources Unit website.

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