Book grant blazes trail

Robert Pierce, RobertP_EXP

One hundred and fifteen sections are marked as Zero Textbook Cost or “ZTC” at Los Medanos College this semester, up from last semester’s count of 100, covering the entire breadth of LMC’s General Education curriculum.

So many sections are now ZTC that, according to a presentation given at All College Day by philosophy professor and Zero Textbook Cost Grant Director Edward Haven, there is at least one hypothetical pathway for an LMC philosophy student that would see them not having to buy a textbook at any point from enrollment to degree. However, there is currently only 1 ENG-100 section available, and it is exclusively for Puente students, meaning only a few can take advantage of this.

“In theory, the pathway is there, and we need to expand that,” said Haven, who also commented that he is actively “working with other departments” to create a wider scope of ZTC sections and even degrees, with emphasis on English and statistics sections.

Haven also mentioned that the Art and Drama departments are “talking seriously” about creating a ZTC pathway, and that math, biology and chemistry are also targets. The focus on STEM majors is deliberate, as they include a large amount of general education courses within their curricula.

“It’s by design in that we do need to meet those life sciences… for the California State Universities,” Haven said. “Everyone needs those.”

While this semester is a boom time for ZTC at LMC, it is also a time of transition and somewhat uncertain future. The original grant that allowed LMC to develop a ZTC program ends at the end of the year and starting next semester the program will be rebranded as the Open Educational Resource or OER program.

Scott Hubbard, a key player in the OER program, commented that there is no functional difference between the two programs, but that ZTC is limited in scope to the state of California and a specific grant, whereas OER is an umbrella term used in education nationwide and can refer to materials beyond textbooks such as videos, lesson plans or handouts.

The program shift will not affect sections that have already implemented OER — according to Hubbard, those sections were built from the ground-up with materials that “will never cost anything.”

However, if the OER board is not able to secure alternative forms of funding, it could slow down the anticipated expansion of the program. According to Haven and Hubbard, the process for creating an OER/ZTC section is very involved, labor-intensive and expensive, requiring brand new syllabi, homework, tests and other elements that work with the free resources.

Many teachers used stipends from the grant to develop their OER sections — but those stipends will no longer be available with the grant closing.

“We’re hoping that when the grant ends, we’ll be able to get some buy-ins from the college… to continue our work,” Hubbard said.

 According to numbers from Haven, the implementation of OER at LMC saved students $177,600 during the Fall 2018 semester alone.

“The college recognizes this is something of value,” Haven said.

Hubbard hopes that the efficacy of the program can secure future funding.

“If people can understand how important it is… if we can make that clear to people that we’re helping save money… if we can continue to make the case,” Hubbard said, “I’m confident we can get [funding.]”