Anita Walz, student employee Kindred Grey, and Reed Kennedy during their virtual "unboxing" event for the open textbook, "Strategic Management."
Anita Walz, student employee Kindred Grey, and Reed Kennedy during their virtual "unboxing" event for the open textbook, "Strategic Management."

A college education is no longer a luxury for the privileged few, rather, it is a necessary instrument for economic opportunity and mobility. The COVID-19 pandemic has worked to increase economic disparity throughout the country, potentially pushing a college education out of reach of many students.

However, members of the Management Department have coordinated with Anita Walz, assistant director of Open Education and Scholarly Communication librarian, to make a management degree more affordable. And they’ve done so, recently releasing Virginia Tech’s adaptation of “Strategic Management” as an open textbook.

An open textbook is one that is openly licensed for adaptation and sharing, and freely available electronically. Also known as Open Educational Resources, open textbooks are often made available at cost in print.

“Strategic Management” is a 343-page textbook designed to introduce key topics and themes of strategic management to undergraduate students in a required senior capstone course, MGT 4394 Strategic Management.

“Textbook prices are already very high and continue to rise,” said Management Department Head Devi Gnyawali.

“This adds to the cost of tuition and living expenses for our students. I hope the open textbook will, in a small way, help reduce the financial burden for students and their parents. This is the second open textbook developed by our faculty. I truly appreciate this innovative effort and hard work by Reed Kennedy and the team of professors in the Department of Management.”

How does one adapt an existing textbook into an open textbook?

“One must know and understand the material,” said Reed Kennedy, associate professor of practice in the Management Department, who helped adapt “Strategic Management.”

“I had a team of five professors – Eli Jamison, Joseph Simpson, Pankaj Kumar, Ayenda Kemp, and Kiran Awate – who assisted with the textbook flow and the table of contents, as well as what went into each chapter,” Kennedy continued.

“Getting that consensus is important, so that each faculty member has input and ownership of the textbook. I wrote a lot of copy, but the more difficult part was finding current examples, pictures, and graphics that were free of copyright restrictions for use in the textbook. The editing and re-editing is quite time consuming and tedious.

“We were fortunate to have Anita Walz and recent Pamplin graduate Katie Manning, as well as a couple of student employees with the library, to help with much of the nitty-gritty work.”

Once the content has been finalized, Walz and her team work on graphic design as well as color schemes. “The goal is to have a coherent reader experience in which graphic elements contribute to comprehension and engagement rather than a distraction,” she said. Student employee Kindred Grey’s contributions to visual elements of the book resulted in a book that is more visually cohesive than what was previously in use.

The use of current examples, pictures, and graphics highlights another advantage of the open textbook – customization. Materials can be shaped to fit a specific course, and content can be altered with local imagery and references to be more relatable to students.

Walz also works to ensure proper credits, that materials are indexed and discoverable, and that “downstream” adaptors and adopters can use the materials without as few issues as possible.

The project was made possible with support from the Pamplin College of Business and the Open Education Initiative at the University Libraries. “The Open Education Initiative offers assistance and grants to faculty,” explained Walz. “Be it technological assistance, platform assistance, and/or editorial services.”

We are aligned with the open-source movement, a large and growing movement.”

The open-source movement is one that supports the notion of open collaboration, be it open-source software or open-source education materials, more commonly known as Open Educational Resources or OER.

“Strategic Management” started with existing content released under a Creative Commons license which allows the material to be freely customized and shared. “Creative Commons licenses are a layer on top of copyright,” Walz said.

“Most faculty I work with aim to improve teaching and learning experiences through creation or adaptation of interactive and/or reading resources but need assistance in navigating copyright and open licenses, publication standards, and numerous other details to reach their desired outcome.

“I tell faculty members, ‘When something has an open license you are welcome to customize and share. If your course material doesn’t fit or is too expensive, you can do something about this.’”

“Strategic Management” was not the first open-source textbook that the Management Department developed. In 2016, Management Professor of Practice Steve Skripak worked with Walz to release “Fundamentals of Business” as an open textbook. That project began when Skripak contacted Walz after becoming frustrated by the high cost of the newest edition of the textbook.

Since 2016, it is estimated that Virginia Tech students have saved over $500,000 using the open textbook format of “Fundamentals of Business.” Based on current enrollments and a conservative replacement price of $100/per student per book, “Fundamentals of Business” and “Strategic Management” together have saved Virginia Tech students nearly $150,000 each semester in textbook costs.

The third edition of the open textbook “Fundamentals of Business” is expected to be released in January 2021.

When Walz and Skripak first embarked on converting an existing openly licensed book into the open textbook “Fundamentals of Business,” the process took just over one year. The process for “Strategic Management” took less than seven months.

“We’ve made significant improvements to our infrastructure and process,” she said. “There is much more organizational support as well.”

While there is more support available, with Virginia Tech adopting guidelines for the creation and use of open textbooks and open educational resources, there are still some roadblocks regarding their widespread usage.

“There is currently a lack of consensus across academia concerning how to best value these contributions from faculty,” explained Walz. “I get questions from faculty such as, ‘is anyone else doing this?’ and ‘how will this impact my career?’”

She continued, “We also do not have a way to signal to students that there are no course material costs associated with specific courses.”

Despite these potential impediments, the benefits of using open textbooks and open education resources far outweigh the negatives, according to Walz. “Such real-world, collaborative work is also a rewarding learning experience for all involved - faculty, students, recent graduates - and for faculty and students using and giving feedback on the course materials. There are wonderful opportunities for learning and career development, and the output matters a lot to students at Virginia Tech and beyond."

In Walz's eyes, it is the embodiment of the Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

“As a land-grant institution, we share,” she explained. “We share with the public, with friends, family, and colleagues.

“It’s what we do.”