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Librarian Notes: Lower Cost Barriers

Lower a cost barrier for students with free/affordable cost textbooks

Librarian Support for Equity: We can help Faculty lower the cost barrier of textbooks.  Send a meeting invitation to and we can talk to you about options for Free and Affordable course materials. You do not have to start from scratch: Many universities, colleges and K-12 are already using popular Open Educational Resources (OER) and Library Resources to make success easier for all students.  

Faces of various people talking

Overview of what was covered at “Lower Cost Barriers for All Students with Free Online Textbooks” panel discussion

Overview of what was covered at  “Lower Cost Barriers for All Students with Free Online Textbooks” panel discussion

Wisconsin Equity Summit May 4, 2021 presented by The Diversity and Inclusion Services at Fox Valley Technical College. May 4, 2021, 2:20 PM - 3:20 PM



Kathryn Johnston, chat/QA monitor.

Valerie Magno, panel moderator


Bob Butterfield is the Director of Instructional Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  Instructional Resources is a campus program to advocate for students in the area of textbook affordability.  Bob has been actively involved in a host of textbook affordability initiatives for the last decade. At UW Stout, their system of a flat fee for textbooks has been in place since the beginning. It has served them well with regards to OER, because there is a cost incentive for the institution to invest time, money, and energy in free textbooks so that the institution saves money. 

Cindy Domaika is the Manager of Open & Instructional Resources at Nicolet College and has been working in the Open Education space for close to 5 years.  The Nicolet faculty have converted all of their Oral/Interpersonal sections over to “Communication in the Real World” which is by far the most popular Free textbook for Communication Skills that I have seen online.  

Vince Mussehl is the library director and Open RN librarian for Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) in Eau Claire. As a Wisconsin technical college graduate, Vince knew there was room for improvement in the student affordability landscape. Since he started at CVTC in 2014, he has worked with faculty from a variety of disciplines to incorporate cost-savings techniques such as technology checkout, textbooks on reserve, and open or affordable educational resources.

Questions & Responses

Recommendations for finding Free Textbooks and other Open Educations Resources (OER)

  1. Search Engines

  1. Popular peer-reviewed textbooks:

  1. Pressbooks:

  1. Local Resources:

Best practices for using no-cost or low-cost  textbooks or resources in courses.

  1. The stipend and award incentives are the most effective methods of making a Zero-Textbook-Cost  (ZTC) program successful.
    • Nicolet has ladder up to associates degree start with ZTC classes

  1. Make it easy to search course catalog for no-cost/low-cost classes
    • CVTC does coding manually - partnership IT & registrar for coding OER/AER

  1. Backward design with assessment as a starting point
    • summative
    • formative

  1. Concentrate only on the materials needed for competencies and no more.
    • Chunking… chapter or module
    • No textbook needed if all chapters or modules are loaded in LMS like Blackboard.

  1. Printed copies
    • Should be available through book store
    • Financial aid should cover purchase of paper copy from Bookstore.
    • Library should have printed copy for checkout
    • Students often  start the semester frantically  printing but then less so as they get used to electronic format.

Why OER?

OER makes equity through and with teaching materials an easier and more realistic goal.


  • Get access to the textbook immediately
  • Textbook is free to read or download
    • $40 is becoming a standard “affordability” point but remember it is hard for a student to earn $40
  • Print copies are just cost of printing (bookstore can provide these so it can be paid with Financial Aid)
  • Students can download textbook and keep it forever
  • Getting all your General Education courses switched to free-textbook or no-textbook options will be a great lure for students!
    • Nicolet faculty have converted all of their Oral/Interpersonal sections over to “Communication in the Real World”


 When faced with choosing a textbook, it is logical that a faculty member might choose the textbook that covers the most learning objectives.

However, when using OER, that need not be an issue, since chapters from different textbooks can be as easily used as from one textbook.

Free OER materials provide

  • Opportunity to pick and choose pieces of content that are most appropriate for course objectives
  • Freedom to edit and update immediately
  • Ability to tailor images and examples to be representative of our students
  • Can keep content current because it  can be updated quickly.
  • Tailor to make textbook or modules specifically aligned to current curriculum standards.

Practicing open pedagogy

  • Students can contribute by developing their own resources independently or in collaboration with their instructor.
  • Use non-disposable assignments for active learning
  • Have students evaluate, review, edit, add content, create questions for a question bank, etc.

What makes a course is a good candidate for switching to a free textbook option?

Lots of students taking course, textbook cost over $40

When there is faculty interest or student interest

When there is a need to make textbooks more attuned to the audience or topics needed

When you want to use problems and issues that are local and relevant for exercises and assessment

When is the best time to consider switching to a free textbook option?

Any time there is an interest

Natural times for considering a new textbook (at least every 5 years)

When course is up for textbook review and would reasonably expect to change textbooks in any case. 

When favorite textbook goes out of print

Why have an OER steering committee?
Continuity – Needs to be long term commitment.

Organization – Keep track of who is using free or low-cost

To oversee branding, logo, and materials for marketing & promotion

Knowledge sharing – Experienced users can advise & train others.

Who should be on committee?

Faculty & Students: Get feedback from stakeholders.

OER Heroes: Early adopters in committee can promote peer to peer.

Librarians: To help find free and low-cost resources & review licenses.

Other stakeholders: Course designers, registrar, etc.

More information:

Library Guides
UW- System Open Educational Resources

CVTC - Open Educational Resources (OER)

Nicolet - Faculty Guide to Open Educational Resources: OER Home

FVTC - LIST OERs by Program or Topic: Popular OERs & OER & Opening Copyright: What, Why and How


EDUCAUSE Horizon Report | Teaching and Learning Edition 2021

p.25-27  talks about OER & education outlook

Fall 2020 edition of STUDENT MONITOR’s twice annual LIFESTYLE & MEDIA Study


Organizations & Members

  • Chippewa Valley Technical College
  • Fox Valley Technical College Library
  • Lakeshore Technical College
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC)
  • Moraine Park Technical College
  • Nicolet College
  • Waukesha County Technical College

  • Chippewa Valley Technical College, WI - Community College
  • Fox Valley Technical College, WI - Community College
  • Nicolet College, WI - Community College
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison, WI – Full University

“Z degrees” mean zero textbook costs

ZTC or Zero-Textbook-Cost Courses and Certificates lower cost barriers to getting  students on the education ladder.

UW-Milwaukee psychology “OER materials are used in all sections of Psychology 101”

Nicolet College: Criminal Justice Program Now has Zero Textbook Costs

ZTC & LTC Courses

End Note: Setting up a panel and actually doing it has been interesting.  I will never look at a panel the same way again!  If I were to do this again I would not have a script, and I would choose only 3 questions.  That way the emphasis would be more on the panelists discussing the topic together, rather than trying to get in the most questions possible.  -Val 5/26/2021

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