These Colleges Bet Culturally Appropriate Textbooks Will Improve Student Outcomes

Millie González and her colleagues are not here to question whether open educational resources are on par with traditional textbooks, she said. research confirmed it.

González and Framingham State University, where she is the acting director of the Whittemore Library, are part of a Massachusetts consortium seeking to answer various questions. Like: What if students had access to a catalog of free textbooks and (what’s important here)? What if the color faculty embarked on the process of creating books suitable for its classes?

“What would the outcome be for students, especially students from underserved communities? Said González. “Usually when you hear a discussion about free textbooks it really just talks about the cost, and what we’re saying is it goes way beyond that. ”

Six Massachusetts colleges and universities, alongside the state’s Department of Higher Education, are testing their hypothesis that free, culturally relevant textbooks can improve student performance.

The project, called Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens, will receive a federal grant of $ 441,000 over three years. The funds will cover financial support and mentorship for faculty who create new open educational resources (OER for short) or adapt existing open textbooks. The books would be shared among 29 Massachusetts colleges with undergraduate programs.

“We hope to create a model that other states can use for their cultural relevance,” says Jess Egan, instructional design coordinator at Holyoke Community College, one of the partners. “We’re trying to encourage a model of deliberately building or rebuilding OER to meet the needs of your learners and not necessarily just to create a textbook. “

Other institutional partners are Fitchburg State University, Northern Essex Community College, Salem State University, and Springfield Technical Community College.

Beyond affordability

To explain the emphasis on cultural relevance, González draws on his memories of childhood in New York. His experiences couldn’t be further from the examples his elementary school books focused on agriculture.

“As a little girl, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on on the farm.’ But everything has been adapted to this specific rural area, while I’m in Manhattan. It just didn’t fit, ”she says.

But González is convinced that students will be able to see themselves reflected in the texts resulting from the scholarship: “With OER we can certainly offer this experience to our students. “

Teachers will be encouraged to incorporate the local context and examples into their textbooks, González says, and to include non-white narratives. About 39% of Framingham State University identify as people of color, with Latino and black students accounting for 18% and 15% respectively.

“If you want to change the dynamic and involve the students, you can include the students in the development of your textbook,” she says.

The majority of business textbooks are produced in Texas or Florida, Egan says, and their cultural references reflect their origins.

“For us in New England, a very progressive and militant place, some of the principles taken out of the program are why we are here,” she said. “We want to focus on the critical theory of race [and] decolonization.

Egan works with a professor of anatomy and physiology who is ready to edit the images in his textbook, which mainly features diagrams of white men. This doesn’t work for a campus where about 1 in 4 students are Latino and 40% overall identify as people of color.

“It doesn’t reflect the community, and it doesn’t prepare students to serve the community,” Egan says. “She would like to completely diversify the images so that she can better demonstrate maternal health for black women or diabetes for the ‘XYZ community’ and show them as practitioners what they will face in the community.”

Fill gaps

Topics like English and lower-level math are well covered in the OER ecosystem. Egan says Remixing Open Textbooks through an Equity Lens has the opportunity to bridge areas where open textbooks are more scarce, such as early childhood education, healthcare, and criminal justice. The faculty will benefit from the assistance of an advisory board made up of local employers in these same fields, including hospital staff whose comments may inform the changes to the anatomy and physiology text mentioned by Egan.

“The faculty identifies the gaps and the hospital provides an overview of the gaps they see. It’s a good combination of community and equity and focused curriculum design, ”says Egan.

Egan says that creating and adapting open textbooks will also make the university more agile. They can add chapters as new skills become in demand by employers or choose the format that best suits their courses.

“With things like social media marketing, if you print a book this year, it might not be relevant next year,” she says. “We are able to follow emerging trends and follow what’s happening here and now. “

For example, the music teachers Egan works with need to make sure their music theory text, which eliminates textbooks for four classes, won’t be bound. This will make it easier for students to use the included scores.

“They said, ‘We need it to be printed in a certain way so that when the students play the piano, they can put the book that way.’ I had never thought of anything like this before, ”she says. “[OER] is no longer just a PDF.

Measuring success

To gauge the success of the program, participating colleges will look at retention rates, grades, and the number of faculty using open textbooks. Librarians, technologists and designers will work together to analyze the effectiveness of the program and identify where students are having difficulty with the material.

“We know that students don’t always buy the book, and that creates this cycle where they’re left behind,” Egan says. “So we’re focusing on the data to make sure that not only are the costs going down, but that we are reaching the populations that are currently at risk. “

There are, of course, benefits to student portfolios when faculty assign open course material. With the potentially generating program up to 79 pounds, participating institutions estimate that students will collectively save at least $ 800,000 in textbook costs. This could provide relief, especially for students who are struggling financially or navigating college on their own.

“First-generation students who don’t really know what to expect when they go to college assume, like in high school, that all this material will be handed to them,” González explains. “Then we tell them, ‘By the way, you have to spend $ 1,000 on textbooks.’ ”

González hopes colleges in Massachusetts and the country will adopt the material produced by the six partner institutions in the project. At the very least, the project will encourage professors who plan to use their textbooks primarily as a reference for selecting an OER book.

“There’s so much OER content that we can absorb and then add that New England flavor, our regional flavor, and on top of that, that intentional cultural relevance that I think is so lacking,” says- she.

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