Additional University Perspectives and Experience

16 University of Iowa: Affordable Content Activities

Annette Beck, Director, Enterprise Instructional Technology, Office of Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of Iowa

As tuition and higher education costs rise for students across the country, more and more institutions are focusing on ways to decrease the overall cost through more affordable content options to students. High textbook prices are an additional, many times unnecessary, burden on students and their families.

The good news is that new options and content models, such as digital texts and media-rich online content, are available for free through open educational resources (OER) or at greatly reduced publisher pricing. These opportunities decrease the overall cost of education while also providing new affordances to learning.

Following is a non-exhaustive list of University of Iowa committees and initiatives that are focusing on this issue or may be impacting this problem in peripheral but positive ways. Staff in the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology (OTLT) are partnering with faculty, the Iowa Hawk Shop University Book Store, Administrative Information Systems (application developers), University of Iowa Libraries, and Unizin partners to identify ways in which we can expand these opportunities to our students.

  • Unizin—led by the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology
    • Implementing the Unizin Engage e-text platform. This platform will provide access to greatly-reduced textbook prices and OER, while also offering faculty insights into how students use these digital materials.
    • Pressbooks is a content authoring tool. OTLT supports faculty in creating their own content to support course learning objectives.
  • Digital Direct Access (DDA) collaboration—led by the Iowa Hawk Shop Book Store and the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology
    • DDA is becoming a popular new model across the country for ensuring that all students receive course content at greatly reduced cost. The key is that the content is immediately available to registered students within their learning management system course site.
    • This model provides students quicker access to learning materials, which translates into future success.
    • These two offices are jointly developing and supporting the students’ DDA (textbooks and other content) with charges sent to students’ billing accounts, and the Iowa Hawk Shop Book Store is doing this without additional price markups to students.
  • UI Libraries
    • A Scholarly Communication Librarian has recently been hired, and is focusing on new ways for the UI Libraries to increase student access to OER and Library-licensed content.
    • The UI Libraries are leveraging and participating as members of the Open Textbook Network (OTN)—The Open Textbook Network (OTN) promotes access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks.[1]
    • A new Textbook Purchase and Affordability Pilot Program has been developed in partnership with UI Student Government (UISG). Through this new initiative, the UI Libraries will purchase textbooks for course reserves and accept textbook donations to increase access for students, particularly in large courses.
    • The Scholarly Communications Librarian is conducting environmental scans to identify target courses for potential OER replacement.
    • Staff in the UI Libraries regularly deliver OER workshops and provide other educational support efforts, such as their Liaison Library program.
  • Council of Deans’ OER Ad Hoc Committee—led by University Libraries in collaboration with OTLT staff. The final report from this committee will be available by the end of the spring 2018 semester. This short-term committee was charged to:
    • Perform an environmental scan across colleges to determine how textbooks decisions are made and measure the comfort level with OER.
    • Define a future OER strategy for the UI including the roles of the colleges, the libraries, the Office of Teaching Learning and Technology, the Iowa Hawk Shop Book Store, and student government.
    • Develop a common language around OER tools and services.
    • dentify potential pilot applications including incentives for creating OER (i.e. expand upon the Open Textbook Initiative).
    • Explore the Unizin role and partnerships.
  • Provost’s Office Textbook Task Force—another short term committee, sponsored by the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, charged to:
    • Review UI compliance with textbook/course material requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA).
    • Identify challenges and opportunities to improving UI compliance with the HEOA and earlier faculty adoption.
    • Explore opportunities to reduce student cost of textbooks and course materials.
  • Learning Design Collaboratory—led by OTLT staff, along with partners in University College, the UI Libraries, and local college instructional support units, this new program is a centrally-funded, strategic initiative to support course redesign that leverages evidence-based pedagogies and best practices.
    • The goals of the Collaboratory are to:
      • Improve student success
      • Improve faculty experience
      • Improve the quality of course design and delivery
      • Lower the cost of course delivery


The fourth goal of the Collaboratory specifically provides the opportunity to introduce OER and DDA content, which will provide significant savings to students.

The Collaboratory supports three faculty activities with different levels of funding to faculty participants:

  • Community of Practice (CoP)—a cohort of faculty who meet on a regular basis to explore new pedagogies and strategies for use when they work with the Design Teams
  • Course Design Teams—led by a Learning Designer, these teams of staff come from areas and expertise within OTLT and across the campus, and are assigned to faculty in order to meet the needs of their specific course redesign efforts
  • Assessment—the OTLT Research & Assessment team works with the faculty prior to redesign to review data from past courses and inform decisions about redesign. Assessment staff work with the faculty and the Design Teams to develop an assessment plan to measure impact of the redesign efforts.

Opening up new content options to our students by supporting faculty adoption of new digital content and engagement is requiring campus-wide effort and a growing appreciation for the opportunities afforded. New initiatives and supports will certainly evolve into the future as we assess and research outcomes from the current work at Iowa and elsewhere.



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