Professor Jim Fiore fights rising textbook costs,
makes class materials accessible for students
MVCC Professor Jim Fiore ’77 is somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to Open Educational Resources.
Fiore, a professor in MVCC's School of STEM, has been writing technical journals and lab manuals since the 1980s, and, in the early 1990s, he contracted with a company to publish his first textbook.
“I learned some hard truths about the publishing industry,” he says. For example, when he went to update his textbook for the second edition, he found out the rights had been sold to a new publisher. He also had very little input into the publishing and printing of his text, and absolutely no control over cost. “Textbook prices had started to go crazy. Students going to school and not being able to afford their books is just wrong. This is a huge barrier for them, and I was able to do something to help, so I did.”
Fiore began doing research and discovered Open Educational Resources (OERs), which include any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license, meaning that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt, and re-share them. OERs are different from online access books, which only can be accessed online for a semester or two and are not owned by the student. For comparison, some OERs, such as foundation texts for particular subjects, are often kept in students’ personal libraries for future reference.
Fiore was able to reclaim the rights to his book, but they just included the text he wrote — not illustrations and diagrams — so he had to redo all of the schematics and diagrams for the third edition. It was released as an OER, a 600-page PDF that he wrote, edited, and proofread himself, which can be downloaded for free. It also can be updated whenever revisions are needed. “You give up royalties, but you get control over your book, and this is a huge thing for students,” he says. This past spring, he published the book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and students can buy a hard copy for about $15 — a far cry from the triple-digit price tag the publishing company had put on it. The pages are in black and white to keep costs down, but the book has a glossy color cover.
“I was skeptical at first, but when I saw the book, it was very nice quality,” he says. “And I’m a little old school; I like physical books. But these books are properly bound, and the quality is there. The resolution is even better than the edition that cost students $200.”
Fiore explains that the license for Open Educational Resources is noncommercial remix with attribution, so he still owns the rights and can control the editions and pricing. He says others can edit, add to, and republish his work, but it must be published under the same license.
For Fiore, the sharing of information to help people learn just makes sense. “I come from the software world, and in the ’80s, it was all about software and freeware, and OERs are the same ethos,” he says. Fiore makes them available for free on his website and gets emails from skeptical people all over the world.
For instance, a man in South America who was trying to start a technical institute on a shoestring budget came across Fiore’s books online but didn’t believe he could just give them to his students. “People distrust altruism. They want to know what the catch is,” he says. “But there’s no catch. I’m an educator — my goal is to disseminate the information and help students.”
So far, Fiore has published 12 OER titles — with two more in the works, and has covered almost all of the courses he teaches. MVCC’s Electrical Engineering Technology program is more than half OER in curriculum, and other courses and programs are developing OERs.
“I’d love to see this take off here,” he says. “OERs are really a community endeavor. We are a community of educators. Everyone does a little bit, everyone gains a lot. I think it’s a great model.”