This engineering textbook is making college cheaper and learning easier

Dan Baker and his parents

Dan Baker and his parents at the CSU Libraries Open Educator Awards. 

Dan Baker’s parents are proud of him. His open textbook for engineering is saving Colorado State University students an estimated $44,880 a year.

Baker, a teaching professor of civil engineering, recently invited his parents, John and Lynda, to join him as he received the CSU Libraries’ inaugural Open Educator Award.

The award recognizes a single CSU educator who promotes or contributes to a culture of utilizing free academic resources and knowledge sharing to lessen the financial burden on students and mitigate the overall cost of receiving an education. The Libraries received a total of 26 nominations celebrating outstanding educators across campus.

Baker led a team of nine contributors throughout the U.S. to create the free, online textbook, “Engineering Statics: Open and Interactive.”

It is now the primary textbook used in CIVE 260 Engineering Mechanics: Statics at CSU. It has been adopted at six other institutions as well. Baker said usage statistics have even shown international readers in India, the Philippines and Canada.

Baker recognized the extensive support needed to bring the textbook to the classroom.

“It was supported by extensive time contributions from my co-authors and financial support from a Colorado Department of Higher Education grant, CSU Provost Office Digital Learning Initiative grant and an Open Educational Resources grant from the CSU Libraries,” he wrote.

“The book was a labor of love,” Baker added.

Expert-approved and student-approved content

Free textbooks are good for students’ wallets, but are they good for students’ learning?

Baker and his co-authors ensured that their textbook was high-quality and expert-approved by incorporating content reviews into their process, including peer reviews of co-authors’ contributions and external reviews by other faculty teaching engineering statics courses.

They also surveyed students before and after adopting “Engineering Statics” in the classroom. Survey results indicated that, when compared to the previous commercial textbook, “Engineering Statics” was easier to read, aligned better with the course and helped students learn more effectively.

Students at CSU have reported delaying buying textbooks to avoid high costs, which can impact their success in courses. Baker’s open textbook is available to students before, during and even after the course. Students can also choose to download a printable version if they work better with paper versions.

The textbook carries a Creative Commons license that allows instructors to freely share and customize the content. That means instructors have more freedom and flexibility to adapt learning materials to meet the unique learning needs of their students.

But what do Baker’s students think of the free textbook?

“The only time I’ve ever gotten applause on the first day was after telling them that our team wrote them a free textbook,” said Baker. “While the free cost is what catches the students’ attention, I’m the proudest of the book’s approachable style and interactive elements.”