Faculty at UNG are sure to have noticed the new course materials cost designations that have appeared in Banner since 2018, labeling each section as low-cost (under $40) or no-cost. My department has taken this initiative seriously, collectively reviewing our entire set of offerings to identify courses that qualify for a designation. We want to attract students to our courses, and we hope that, all other things being equal, the no-cost attribute will tip the balance. And there is no question that the USG wants to see a move toward lower textbook costs for students.

Esther Morgan-Ellis

But there is also no question that free, open-access textbooks can be good for students — and the advantages don’t stop at their wallets. If course materials are freely available for download, you can be confident that the vast majority of your students will have access to them from the first day. And if those materials are published under the appropriate Creative Commons license, then you have the right to revise and remix them however you please. Although many faculty have appropriate concerns about the adequacy of open-access course materials, the quality and range of textbooks available through GALILEO and OpenStax continues to improve year by year.

If you are interested in creating or adapting no-cost materials for use in your own classroom, Affordable Learning Georgia (ALG) is there to help. ALG was founded in 2013 for the purpose of reducing textbook costs for USG students and thereby improving course completion and graduation rates, and evidence suggests that this mission has been successful. To facilitate the creation and adoption of no-lost/low-cost and open-access course materials, ALG runs three rounds of grant competitions every year, funding dozens of faculty-run projects. The grants are available at three levels: Large-Scale Textbook Transformation (up to $30,000), Standard-Scale Textbook Transformation (up to $10,800), and Mini-Grants (up to $4,800). All competitions require at least two team members, and the next deadline is April 20.

In January 2019, I led a team of instructors in securing a Large-Scale Textbook Transformation Grant for the purpose of creating and publishing an open-access music appreciation textbook. We proposed to co-author the book, see it through peer-reviewed publication with UNG Press, and develop a full range of ancillary teaching materials. Our team, which currently includes ten faculty members, was one of the largest in ALG history. This is due to the fact that every music appreciation instructor at UNG was given the opportunity to participate. When the finished textbook is officially adopted by all sections in Fall 2020, therefore, the instructors will have contributed to its development and creation.

We are very lucky to have the official state press for open-access textbooks right here on campus. UNG Press has already published a range of excellent free textbooks, and they are always eager to work with new teams. They put all of their textbooks through rigorous peer review, meaning that they are held to a high standard and qualify contributors for a meaningful publication credit. Their services are not free, of course, but an ALG grant can cover all publication costs.

Writing a textbook in collaboration with my colleagues has been a profoundly rewarding experience. I have already received inquiries from around the country, and I expect about a dozen institution from outside of Georgia to adopt the textbook alongside UNG. We hope eventually to impact the music appreciation curriculum on a national level. I am very proud of the work we have done, and I see this project as the most valuable contribution that I have made both to my field and to the university. I would strongly encourage any faculty member to explore the possibility of creating their own course materials with ALG support.

However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind:

1) ALG stipends are capped at $5,000 per individual — and that doesn’t include the 28% cut that UNG takes from external grants. I was also able to receive support for this project from the UNG Presidential Awards program, but otherwise an undertaking of this magnitude would not have been feasible.

2) The ALG timeline is highly restrictive! Although the program is managed with generous flexibility, projects are supposed to be completed within three semesters. For us, that meant less than nine months between receiving the award and submitting the completed text for peer review. I found the timeline energizing, but it certainly needs to be taken into account when considering scope. Luckily, the Mini-Grants are available to fund any necessary revisions or additions.

3) Before applying for an ALG grant, get in touch with the UNG Grants and Contracts Administration and UNG Press. This will ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

I invite anyone who is interested in hearing more about my experience with ALG and UNG Press to contact me at any time.