Indiana State University Newsroom

Look ma, no books! Pilot project saves students money

August 18, 2014

Hailee Travioli and Tiara Torres aced a pair of recent classes at Indiana State University without ever buying a textbook. Andrew Jewell did it twice and came through with flying colors.

In fact, more than 700 Sycamores have participated in a pilot program that encourages faculty to forego textbooks in favor of open-educational, or open-access, resources. The year-old program is part of an initiative in the university's strategic plan aimed at making college more affordable.

Organizers say the students have saved a collective $90,000. And students say learning hasn't suffered.

"I loved the fact that our reading assignments and articles came from links my professor provided, and they were very interesting. The articles and links involved current issues and made it more enjoyable to read and participate in class," said Travioli, a junior criminal justice major from Terre Haute.

"I found it to be helpful for me, especially when everything was done on the Internet," said Torres, a sophomore information technology major from East Chicago.

"When I read, I usually look for important points and either write them down or highlight them. I basically went through the same learning process," added Jewell, a junior sport management major from Indianapolis.

Jalen Foster, a computer engineering and electronic engineering technology student from Chicago who always keeps his laptop with him, liked the program for another reason.

"I never had to worry about grabbing a book before leaving for this class. I had all the content I needed right on my computer," he said.

The savings work out to about $123 per student, said Heather Rayl, emerging technology librarian at Indiana State's Cunningham Memorial Library.

"When I was a student, $123 was like two weeks of groceries. It's a significant amount of money for a student. We feel that this really does have the possibility to positively benefit our students," Rayl said.

Torres estimates she could have saved $600 during her first year at Indiana State if all of her classes had used open-source materials.

Open-educational resources are defined as learning materials such as worksheets, lecture notes, slides or even complete textbooks that are available free, usually online, Rayl explained.

"Affordability impacts retention for some students," said Jerre Cline, an analyst with the university's Office of Institutional Research. "Students budget for what they think their costs will be and find out that the cost of books eats away at their available dollars, so they often chose not to get a book, delay purchasing a book or share a text but they may not absorb all of the material that is being presented if they don't have the proper materials available."

Participating faculty members like the program, too.

Bill Wilhelm, a business education professor in the Scott College of Business, teaches a class on ethical challenges facing employees in all types of organizations - the class Travioli took - and had a difficult time finding a textbook.

"It was easy finding textbooks devoted to business ethics, and many textbooks are heavy on the philosophy of ethics, but neither of these genres suited my need for a common-sense approach to organizational ethics that did not require an understanding of business concepts or philosophy," Wilhelm said.

He decided to compile a packet of articles he could tailor to the needs of the course and was surprised to learn that most of the articles he selected were available online for free. He also compiled a list of online videos.

"The dynamics that this approach offers a professor in assigning homework study are tremendous: currency, flexibility, variety of media and affordability," he said. "And the students find the material more interesting than traditional textbooks."

Jared Wuerzburger, an information technology instructor, said he is naturally drawn to open-source software and saw the pilot project as something that fit nicely with an Android class whose students included Torres.

"Most of the coursework that I have manipulated for this course is partially designed by MIT," he said. "If there are any scholarly writings that have to do with the coursework, they will update it and allow people to download those changes. I've actually submitted some things that I've noticed need to be fixed, and they've updated their software."

Nathan Schaumleffel, associate professor of kinesiology, recreation and sport, used the open-access approach for online classes in nonprofit leadership that incorporate community engagement and service learning.

"New materials get produced a lot quicker online than through traditional courses," he said. "We can keep our courses more cutting-edge. The multi-sensory opportunities within online resources such as YouTube videos really spice up the classes. Students also get a variety of professionals that are bringing content to the course through online materials."

Indiana State offers a $3,000 stipend to participating faculty members in recognition of the work necessary to identify appropriate materials and switch from traditional teaching methods.

Beginning this fall, the university is offering a class to help faculty better prepare for the change and navigate the sometimes complicated issue of licensing of material.

Photo: - Student laptops at Indiana State University could be in for even more of a workout if a pilot program of open enrollment resources catches on. More than 700 students saved an estimated $90,000 during the first year of the program that replaces textbooks with open access materials, generally delivered free online.

Contact: Heather Rayl, emerging technology librarian, Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University, 812-237-2150 or; or Jerre Cline, reporting analyst, Office of Institutional Research, Indiana State University, 812-237-2306 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or