SSU professor's ChemWiki fighting high textbooks costs
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“If you're paying more than $100 for a textbook there really is something wrong,” says SSU organic chemistry professor Steven Farmer, who has joined a group of university science faculty working to create no-cost online textbooks.

Farmer is working towards finishing the second half of an organic chemistry textbook to be plugged into a ChemWiki at the online Dynamic Textbook Project. 

He plans to use the ChemWiki for his organic chemistry class in Spring 2014, hoping to save more than 60 SSU students the need to purchase a $300 textbook.

A single general chemistry textbook for undergraduates can cost hundreds of dollars, with new (and more expensive) editions appearing regularly.

Farmer says most of the content is well established and is standardized by the American Chemical Society. Some of the material hasn't changed in decades, if not centuries and he wonders why the increasing cost is justified.

The project began with Professor Delmar Larsen at UC Davis, whose ChemWiki was launched in 2008 on a shoestring budget. 

It now nets more than 2 million visitors a month, making it the most visited domain among the university's websites.

“All the content we need for the first two years of undergraduate chemistry already exists online – so we went out and asked for it,” Larsen said. 

When authors responded positively, Larsen and his student wiki-editors worked to adapt the material into the wiki format. 

ChemWiki recently received its first major funding – a grant of $250,000 from the National Science Foundation to a consortium including UC Davis, Sonoma State University, Diablo Valley College, Contra Costa Community College, Hope College (Michigan) and the University of Minnesota, Morris.

Farmer has a $27,392 National Science Foundation grant to fund his efforts to generate organic chemistry content for the ChemWiki at SSU.

In spring quarter 2014, half of a UC Davis general chemistry class, about 200 students, will use the standard textbook as their principal reference: The rest, hearing the same lectures from the same professors and studying the same material, will use the ChemWiki.

The results will be evaluated by researchers from the Center for Education and Evaluation Services at the UC Davis School of Education.

A similar effort will be performed at SSU, Farmer says.

The ChemWiki project is a collaborative approach from UC Davis toward chemistry education where an Open Access textbook environment is constantly being written and re-written partly by students and partly by faculty members resulting in a free chemistry textbook.

The online texts are referred to as wikis due to the process in which they are created. 

All content creation and revision is supplied by students and faculty.

The result is that specific wikis can be built through collaboration, creating online material specially tailored to a professor's pedagogy. 

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