Faculty Stories – Dr. Michael R. Markham

Dr. Michael Markham, is the Case-Hooper Assistant Professor of Neurobiology in the University of Oklahoma Department of He has created a set of open materials for his students in his Introduction to Neurobiology course.  

  • Course: BIOL 3833
    • Previous Textbook:  Different options over the years
    • Alternative Textbook: a set of content and resources available on the course website.

The following is a brief conversation about adopting an alternative textbook for teaching. 

Stacy Zemke: What areas do you teach in and in what course are you using an open textbook?
Michael Markham: I teach primarily neurobiology courses.  For Introduction to Neurobiology (BIOL3833), I use a combination of open textbooks, downloadable texts that I have prepared for the class, open access software, and other no-cost materials.

SZ: Why did you decide to switch to or try out an open textbook solution for your course?
MM: The main reason was because of the skyrocketing costs that students have to pay for traditional textbooks.  I wanted to reduce the financial burden associated with college coursework.

SZ: What is the open textbook source or sources you are using for your class and what book/books did you replace?
MM: The open-source readings and software for the class are found
here:           http://biol3833.net/readings.html  
and here:       http://biol3833.net/resources.html 

SZ: How many students of yours have used this open solution (total across semesters).
MM: I have taught this class three times now, reaching just over 100 students.

SZ: What was your process for selecting/creating this open book?
MM: I selected the online text that I use after surveying several other open-access texts.  The one I selected is produced by a team of well-respected neurobiologists at a prominent medical school.  The texts I have produced for the class focus on the core concepts that I consider most important in the class.

SZ: What are/were the challenges in changing to the open textbook – is it similar to adopting a new “traditional’ textbook for a course – or are there other challenges?
MM: There were practically no challenges involved in switching to this open textbook.  All I had to do was provide links to the appropriate chapters on my class web page (www.BIOL3833.net).   This was actually far easier than managing adoption of a traditional textbook.

SZ:  How have your students responded to this open textbook?
MM: Students’ responses have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  While several have mentioned that they prefer traditional textbooks, even in those cases the students said that the cost savings far outweighed their preference for a printed text.

SZ: Will you continue to use this current open solution?
MM: Absolutely!

SZ:  Would you consider using an open source for other courses that you teach?
MM: Definitely – I already have.

SZ: What advice do you have for other faculty who are considering using alternative textbooks?
MM: I would certainly encourage other faculty to consider adopting open texts for their classes wherever possible as a service to our students.  In some cases, obviously, this is not possible because no acceptable open alternative exists, or the class plan depends on a traditional text.  However,  in many disciplines and specialties, high-quality open access texts are available.  Where they are, please consider that one week of full-time work at minimum wage does not even begin to cover the cost of textbooks for one semester.   Many of our students are working full- or part-time to support their education.


Image source – http://www.michaelmarkham.net

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