OpenCIJune 25, 2018 — CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) now has an alternative for some students worried about being able to afford textbooks.

CSUCI educators working together have developed two “Z-Majors” which are majors that use quality, free and readily available educational resources as opposed to textbooks, which can be costly.  CSUCI is the first in the CSU system to develop undergraduate “Z-Majors.”

“This is part of a systemwide CSU Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative,” explained Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D., Executive Director of Teaching & Learning Innovations. “We are working to use open educational resources, which are free, reusable and re-mixable. It comes in lots of different forms such as free online textbooks, multimedia, data and supplementary materials. It takes the concept of the textbook and makes it more dynamic.”

Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) is a CSU-wide program that enables faculty across all 23 campuses to choose and provide more affordable, quality educational content for their students in a variety of ways. CSUCI’s version of the program is called “openCI.”

The “openCI” initiative is in line with AB 798, otherwise known as the College Textbook Affordability Act of 2015, which was approved by Governor Jerry Brown on Oct. 15, 2015.

To help with the process of shaping coursework around more web-based learning material, faculty can now access Open Educational Resources (OER), which are a collection of free online courses, e-textbooks and library resources. When combined these course materials save students across California $34 million annually.

Currently, nearly every CSU campus has an Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) coordinator to help drive the OER initiative into their classes.

Associate Professor of Communication Jacob Jenkins, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Nursing Jaime Hannans, Ph.D., R.N., became the openCI campus coordinators with Leafstedt as the administrator.

“We had experienced this rising costs of textbooks in our classes firsthand, so this was something we truly believed in, especially with our student body here at CSUCI, with its high percentage of low income and first generation college students,” Jenkins said.

Since “openCI” first launched in fall of 2016, more than 5,000 CSUCI students have saved more than $834,987. Both Jenkins and Hannans said faculty members they approached were all enthusiastic about re-designing their courses to reduce or eliminate the need for expensive textbooks through web-based learning resources.

“The response from faculty was overwhelming,” Leafstedt said. “We created an ‘ambassador’ program. Each ‘ambassador’ gets a small stipend and the ability to spend a semester working on redesigning the class. The open CI Ambassador program gets more faculty on board and gives them the time to research and incorporate digital learning materials.”

Since the ambassador program was launched, more than 40 faculty members have committed to becoming ambassadors.

The “openCI” initiative is funded by grants from the CSU Chancellor’s Office and AB-798 grants, which, together, totaled $110,000 over the first two years.

In the fall, there will be two “Z-Majors” in the Communication and Early Childhood Studies programs. 

“We already had so many faculty members engaged as openCI Ambassadors from these two programs, and they were already so close to a Z-Major,” Hannans said, when asked why these two programs were chosen.

Hannans, Jenkins and Leafstedt all said they were thrilled with the willingness of the CSUCI faculty to embrace change. Already, several other programs are working toward majors that involve fewer or no textbooks, or textbooks available through the library, and the openCI Coordinators are looking at the same thing with general education courses.

Leafstedt said other campuses have already contacted her for more information about the Z-Majors so they can perhaps design their own.

This year, questionnaires about textbooks costs have gone out to CSUCI students and there have already been about 700 responses, which Hannans, Jenkins and Leafstedt hope will inform the next steps in this continuing initiative.

“A very important part of this is that when the students enter the workforce, they will not be taking textbooks to work,” Hannans said. “They are going to have to find what they need digitally. If they’re already practicing this in class, they will be much more prepared.”