Save Your Students $55,611.55 Per Year: The Creation and Pilot of a Free and Open Technical Communication Textbook

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Recognizing the power of open educational resources, the Affordable Learning Georgia Initiative has provided Textbook Transformation Grants to University System of Georgia faculty. This presentation shares the first round of research on student success and satisfaction regarding an open technical communication textbook resulting from an Textbook Transformation Grant. 

This session received high reviewer ratings and is runner up for Best-in-Strand.


Dr. Tamara Powell is the Director of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Office of Distance Education. She is an alumni of the OLC Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning and a mentor for the OLC Online Teaching Certificate Program. She enjoys working with faculty as they translate their face-to-face teaching genius into an electronic experience.

Extended Abstract

Save Your Students $55,611.55 Per Year:
The Creation and Pilot of a Free and Open Technical Communication Textbook: Extended Abstract

By Dr. Tamara Powell, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia

How will this session engage the audience?

This presentation will share the process of creating a free, open technical communication textbook. All recipients will receive the link to the textbook ( to use as/if they wish.  This presentation will also ask participants to assist in brainstorming regarding what resources the textbook creators might add to the textbook to support faculty adoption—and how they might distribute those to potential adopters.  In addition, throughout the presentation, discussion questions will be posed to help prompt participants to think about the ways they can remix their course materials to incorporate more OERs and reap the benefits in student success and reduction in the debt load. Prizes will be awarded for participation.

What are the Session Outcomes?

Participants will leave with a link to an open textbook, results of the pilot course using the textbook compared to national outcomes regarding OERs, ideas about how to incorporate OERs into their courses or create OERs for their courses, and the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing they helped to boost the creation and distribution of instructor resources for this project. Some participants will also leave with prizes.

Big Questions

What does it mean to create a free, open, online textbook through remixing and reorganizing available resources plus creating some of your own? Why would you do it? How much work is it? How do you organize the project? Does it really impact the students? What do they think about it? Do the results match the results reported nationwide regarding OERs? And what faculty resources are needed to make such materials attractive and adoptable?

The Importance of OERs

Open educational resources are a big news right now. According to a study performed by the US Government Accountability Office, the annual average amount students spend on textbooks is 26% of the cost of tuition at a public, four year university. In 2012-2013, average tuition was $17,474/year (US Department of Education). The research is in on open educational resources, and we are seeing the same results in every study: more student success, more student satisfaction, higher rates of learning (Fischer, Hilton III, Robinson, and Wiley 159). These results are not magical. After all, students will do better in classes if they have the course materials vs. if they do not. We are also seeing that students who enroll in courses with OERs enroll in more courses than those who have to purchase textbooks and course materials. And that means that students use the money they save on textbooks to take more classes and complete college faster—which reduces their debt load. So in many ways, OERs are highly beneficial to students.

The Motivation for the Project

Dr. Tamara Powell (English), Dr. Johnathan Arnett (English), Ms. Monique Logan (Digital Writing and Media Arts), Dr. Cassandra Race (Digital Writing and Media Arts), and Ms. Tiffani Reardon (College of Humanities and Social Sciences Instructional Designer) at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia make up our textbook creation team. The faculty involved are all motivated to create a free textbook for our students because we felt that we were at the whim of the publishers of the textbooks we used in our courses. A new edition of the textbook was coming out about every two years with little or no change in each subsequent edition. Technical communication at the introductory level does not change very much, with the exception of the technology used in communication processes. The technology aspect of the field changes so rapidly that it is always up to the instructor to supply that part of the course—a textbook simply can’t keep up. But with each new edition, the price of the textbook went up $20 or so, with no benefit that we could see for the students. In addition, with every new textbook edition, the faculty were having to revise our course materials, sometimes just to accommodate a chapter switch or the removal of a portion of a chapter that we found valuable. We felt like the time and focus we spent revamping courses was also at the mercy of the publishers.

For all of these reasons, we jumped at the chance to apply for one of the University System of Georgia Affordable Learning Georgia Initiative’s Textbook Transformation Grants.  This initiative “focuses on reducing the costs of textbooks” by “provid[ing] grant-supported opportunities for USG faculty, libraries, and institutions to transform their use of textbooks and other learning materials into lower cost options” (“Textbook Transformation Grants”).

Overview of the Project

In Summer 2015, our team submitted and obtained a $30,000 Textbook Transformation Grant to create a free, open technical communication textbook to be used by four professors across 21 sections of two courses (TCOM 2010 and WRIT 3140) across two departments (English and Digital Writing and Media Arts) at Kennesaw State University. This book would also be available to anyone who wanted to use it, anywhere around the world. We estimated that 525 students would be impacted the first year of implementation, and that we would save those students $55,611.55 from the student debt load. Our textbook uses part of Dr. David McMurrey’s Online Technical Writing and Mr. Steve Miller and Ms. Cherie Miller’s book Why Brilliant People Believe Nonsense. We remixed those materials, editing chapters and putting them into html via SoftChalk. We added interactive activities, graphics, videos, links to activities, and other online elements. We also wrote chapters that needed to be written for the textbook. The textbook will be piloted in the summer of 2016, WRIT 3140: Workplace Writing course. This course is an online course, and Kennesaw State University mandates that any course offered with a new textbook must go through the Quality Matters review process again, so the course was revised to work with the new textbook and submitted to the QM review process, which it successfully completed so that it could be offered in summer 2016. 

In order to better assess the impact of the OER textbook upon students, we surveyed students in our summer 2015 courses who were using standard, publisher textbooks. We asked whether they acquired the textbooks, how difficult or easy they found it to do so, and a range of additional questions regarding student satisfaction with the textbooks. In summer of 2016, we will send the same survey to students in the pilot course to see the difference the OER made in the student experience. We will also compare the summer 2015 grades, retention, and course evaluation average and comments with those of students in the pilot section in summer 2016. We expect to learn what worked and what didn’t and what needed improvement. We also expect to find that our students’ experiences and attitudes are in line with national findings—that student retention, success, completion, and satisfaction improve with OERs.

We will be able to report the results of our research at OLC and share our textbook for anyone to use.

Lessons Learned

We are excited about our new resource, and we are proud to be able to support student success while reducing the student debt load. So why aren’t more schools and faculty creating and using OERs? As our team learned in the creation of our open technical communication textbook, creating these materials and adapting them for whatever it is we want to use them for is time consuming and difficult. Anyone who says to a teacher “Oh, just find course materials online and use them” isn’t thinking about the time to find materials, the vetting of materials, the remixing to suit the instructional needs, and then the creation of what is needed to create a complete set of course materials to support instruction. And it’s hard to make the argument for already busy teachers to undertake these tasks when a publisher is holding the answers to their needs in one tidy package. Especially if an instructor has already created classes using the publisher resources.

What we thought would be a very doable workload and timetable turned into a very difficult project. We didn’t realize how long the remixing would take and how much would have to be revised and rewritten from our source materials.  While we all agree it hasn’t been easy, we do believe that it will valuable for years to come, we are proud of the work we have done to benefit students, and we hope the pilot demonstrates that we have succeeded in benefiting students.  The project was managed via Slack and SoftChalk. The textbook is hosted on the Kennesaw State University server. The website was designed by Ms. Tiffani Reardon with original artwork by Mx. James K. Monroe.


Works Cited

 “Textbook Transformation Grants.” Affordable Learning Georgia. A University System of Georgia/California State University Partnership. Accessed 5/4/2016.

Fischer, Lane. John Hilton III, T. Jared Robinson, and David Wiley. “A Multi-Institutional Study of the Impact of Open Textbook Adoption on the Learning Outcomes of Post-Secondary Students.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education. 27.3 (2015): 159-172.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011), Chapter 3.