The Department of Chemistry at Hope College has a long history of pioneering teaching at the undergraduate level, excellence that has been incorporated into a national coalition of colleges and universities sharing a major, first-of-its-kind grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand LibreTexts, a free online textbook network that is estimated to have already saved students more than $30 million.

The $4.9 million, three-year award is the first ever made through the Department of Education’s “Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education — Open Textbooks Pilot Program.”  Hope’s participation is being led by Dr. Justin Shorb, assistant professor of chemistry, and Dr. Brent Krueger, professor of chemistry, who are each on the multi-institutional leadership team that is developing LibreTexts.  The University of California, Davis is the lead institution, with Hope receiving $161,000 as one of only six sub-awards to other colleges and universities.  The consortium consists of colleges and universities from across the country, many of which have faculty who are also on the grant.

According to the Open Textbooks Pilot Program’s July 30 Federal Register notice, the cost of college textbooks jumped 88 percent between 2006 and 2016, with the average college student budget for books and supplies during 2016-17 being $1,263 for students at four-year institutions and $1,458 at two-year schools. 

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With LibreTexts, students, faculty and outside experts work together to build freely available open education resources that supplant conventional paper-based textbooks. LibreTexts currently encompass 12 widely used college-level disciplines from chemistry to humanities with more than 68,500 pages. Used across the nation as primary course textbooks and as supplemental learning resources, LibreTexts have already recorded more than 250 million page views with 650 years of confirmed student reading.

Shorb and Krueger have been a part of the LibreTexts Project for years, performing research into how students use the online textbook, the multimedia included in the online chemistry portions, and developing new materials. Shorb is currently the curator for the National Science Foundation’s Chemistry Education Digital Library and has moved the online textbook that he developed as part of his graduate work, ChemPRIME, to the LibreTexts’ online library.

Shorb and Krueger both have extensive experience designing workshops for using online materials in teaching science at the high school and collegiate levels. Materials developed as a part of the Hope College General Chemistry Laboratory Program, ChemLabs@Hope, will be moved to the LibreTexts platform as part of the grant, including resources for teaching laboratory skills to native Spanish-speaking students developed by Hope student, Daniela Aguilar while working in the Shorb Research Group during the Department of Chemistry’s summer research program.

Building on the $30 million that it estimates students have saved so far, LibreTexts seeks across the next three years to save students in 1,000 classrooms at least $50 million in textbook costs.  As described in the proposal, the project will involve going beyond adding new content to expanding the range of online services available to faculty developers and student users including a single sign on, interactive 3D visualizations, embedded executable source code, big data informatics, the ability to include personal and class wide annotations, and intelligent coupling into learning management systems.

Hope College’s effort in the project will be in training new users of LibreTexts in how to effectively build their own materials, and how to use them effectively in their classrooms. The grant provides funding for Hope to host multi-day workshops with faculty from across the science disciplines and across the nation in how to effectively use LibreTexts in their own fields, and how to train others at national conferences throughout the year. Additionally, Shorb will lead a team of six undergraduate researchers throughout the grant’s three-year term to research the spread of LibreTexts and how effectively materials are being used across the nation.

In addition to Hope, the institutions with sub-awards through the grant are the University of Arkansas Little Rock, St. Mary’s College, Prince George’s Community College, and two community-college districts in California: the Contra Costa Community College District and the Los Rios Community College District.

More information about LibreTexts is available through the project’s website.