Sophomore mathematics major Taylor Peterson, who is required to take the Math 21 series along with other mathematics courses, has spent over $300 for math textbooks this year alone.
However, students like Peterson required to take either math or chemistry classes can expect an end to the scarce funds prompted by overpriced textbooks.
Sharing the philosophy of alleviating students’ tight budgets attributed to costly textbooks, both the math and chemistry departments are using free online materials as their required textbooks.
“Textbooks are just overpriced, especially for college students who are tight on money,” Peterson said. “I once bought an $80 book and we only used three chapters from the whole thing. If it’s online, I can just print out the necessary information without having to spend a lot of money for the whole textbook.”
Because some online readings already existed and were used by different instructors within the math department, department chair Bruno Nachtergaele proposed the idea for general use in response to rising textbook prices.
As of this fall, four undergraduate math courses are utilizing the online textbook strategy, including Math 67, Math 22A, Math 25 and the Math 201 series.
“The direct reason [for using online materials] was the escalating costs of textbooks and the habit of commercial publishers to produce new editions needlessly,” Nachtergaele said. “The department is interested in addressing both these problems by using free or low-priced alternatives and by keeping control of the materials we use.”
The department’s Undergraduate Program Committee has adopted the strategy and is investigating different ways to provide online texts for all lower division math courses within the next one to two years. Textbooks will be available to students indefinitely, allowing access to a wide collection of free material throughout undergraduate education.
“It’s so much more convenient having textbooks available online for my Math 25 course because I can access all the information I need for free,” sophomore mathematics major Catherine Parish said. “Rather than buying a textbook, using it once, and selling it back, I can have access to that information whenever I need it.”
Though the chemistry department has not implemented online materials as a general departmental strategy, the expanding ChemWiki website, initiated by Professor Delmar Larsen, shares this similar feature of providing free online resource material. Instead of uploading outside textbook sources, ChemWiki is created by students and faculty members, where they undergo a comprehensive process to create modules for peer usage.
“In creating a module for Chem 2C, I’m applying the knowledge that I’ve been learning in the classroom to help other students understand the same topics,” sophomore psychology major Lena Rothstein said. “It’s an extensive process because you have to create the module and then refine it based on student and faculty reviews, but it’s beneficial for students because we are learning new topics that are available on the website at no cost to us.”
Initially starting out on Smartsite in the winter of 2008 as an alternative to expensive chemistry materials, ChemWiki has expanded within the past year to its own website – chemwiki.ucdavis.edu – with topics including organic chemistry, biological chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry. Since November 2008, the site has had 30,000 visits, averaging out to 500 visits a day. Because it is now available on the web, students within and outside UC Davis have access to its information and can actively participate in creating modules.
“We wanted to have students outside UCD participate and take advantage of the project to increase its significance, and to present to the community at UCD the chemistry department’s commitment to lowering education costs where possible,” said Larsen. “I expect its usage to increase substantially as the quarter develops-in part due to great publicity and to greater student and faculty participation.”
REBECCA SHRAGGE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.