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ISU University Libraries announce Fall 2020 Textbook Heroes

by Kristin Whitman on 2020-12-03T08:36:00-07:00 | Comments

ISU Textbook Heroes logo contains clipart of a superhero figure with a book.Idaho State University Libraries recognize eight faculty members as ISU Textbook Heroes for their work adopting free or low-cost textbooks: Iris BuderCatherine GrayZackery HeernMark K. McBethAmy Jo PopaSarah RobeyMarie Stango, and Lydia Wilkes.

Research shows that the cost of educational materials can have a significant impact on student ability to pay for college. In a 2018 survey of Florida students, around 20% said they had dropped, withdrawn from, or even failed a course because they couldn’t afford to purchase the textbook.  

The open educational resources movement has formed in response to the high cost of course materials: open educational resources (OER) are free or low-cost learning materials that are used and shared under an open license. 

To express gratitude and appreciation for those working to make course materials more affordable at ISU, University Libraries has created a new honor called “Textbook Heroes,” which will be awarded on a semesterly basis. These are members of the ISU community who have promoted or adopted low-cost or free course materials including OER, showing an outstanding commitment to student retention and success.

Idaho State University Libraries are pleased to announce Fall 2020 Textbook Heroes: Iris Buder (Economics), Catherine Gray (Library), Zackery Heern (History), Mark K. McBeth (Political science), Amy Jo Popa (Art), Sarah Robey (History), Marie Stango (History), and Lydia Wilkes (English).

To learn more about the work of the Textbook Heroes, we interviewed history faculty Sarah Robey and Marie Stango about their OER experience. Both Dr. Robey and Dr. Stango believe that adopting OER didn’t just help with textbook costs; it improved their course design and helped them teach new skills to their students.

They designed their new OER course assignments as interactive, hands-on learning experiences that require students to search for and interact with primary historical sources. Students are “allowed to collect things and piece together sources to build analytical skills, rather than just memorize information. Instead, they need to use the information they learned to ask and answer questions about the sources,” says Dr. Stango. 

Working with open sources also helps students with their digital literacy and critical thinking skills. “It begs the question for your students, how did it get on the internet, who decided how it got on the internet, who decided that it should be included in a textbook. Then you have a little bit of that behind the scenes perspective,” Dr. Robey explains.

Both instructors also feel that OER is valuable because it makes course materials more accessible to students. “One thing that’s been really useful is the portability. We don’t have to rely on students remembering to carry around this book and bring it to class… they can pull it up on a computer or a smart phone, or if the person next to them has either. They can pull it up in class and work on it together,” Dr. Stango says. 

Some Textbook Heroes received grants in order to do the time-intensive work of updating their courses, but OER adoption does not always have to mean a large time investment. “OERs are different for everybody based on the demands of their teaching,” Dr. Robey says. “This process will vary based on the class, background or discipline.”

See the ISU Textbook Heroes page to learn more about the benefits our Fall 2020 Textbook Heroes have experienced by adopting OER course materials. 

Instructors interested in learning more about adopting OER in their courses can contact the University Libraries to request OER search assistance or the Instructional Technology

Resource Center (ITRC) at for course design help. To nominate a future Textbook Hero, email Kristin Whitman at

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