Seventy-five undergraduate students from the University at Buffalo made history by spending this past semester authoring their own textbook. Small groups of graduate students have authored content before. But never so many undergraduates, according to Dr. Jessica Kruger, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, who is known for her innovative teaching methods in public health.
Every student in the class received a bound copy of the textbook, “Models and Mechanisms of Public Health” which they wrote during the semester and used as the reading material for the course. The book covered three main topics: environmental health, health behavior theories and health disparities.
The textbook was created as an open educational resource, meaning it’s free and accessible to anyone, anywhere. That’s what made the project more special to sophomore Ms. Alexandra Kouptsova, who designed the cover. “It was really rewarding. As students, we have to buy really expensive textbooks. This just brings power to the student again,” she said while holding a copy of her work. “It’s like, wow, we are all published authors now, and so young. It’s really awesome.”
The textbook will remain a living document, with students editing and updating its contents as needed.
Dr. Kruger addressed her students once they were all assembled in 146 Diefendorf Hall on the South Campus on the final day of class in mid-December. As students entered the large lecture hall, they were greeted with handshakes and smiles from SPHHP dean, Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende and faculty members Dr. Gary Giovino and Dr. Sarahmona Przybyla, as well as a few other special guests to celebrate their achievement with the stacks of the textbooks on display.
Mr. Mark McBride, a UB alumnus and senior library strategist for the SUNY Office of Library & Information Services, commended Dr. Kruger’s students for exemplifying the idea of open educational resources within the SUNY system. “The most impactful thing that happens inside of a classroom doesn’t come out of a textbook. It happens when a faculty member interacts with the student, or groups of students, and the students actually participate in creating the content inside of the class. They’re doing something a little bit more applied,” said Dr. McBride, who drove to Buffalo from Albany to attend the celebration.
“I’d be willing to bet that many of you have never had a class this interactive before, and I’d be willing to bet that you feel like you’re more than just a student,” he said. “You’re actually somebody that has learned, and has now taught others how they can learn. And that is what the goal of education is.”
Ms. Kouptsova, the sophomore who created the textbook’s cover, agrees. “It feels like we really are learning because we’re teaching ourselves about topics we don’t know about in our own language and we can also teach it to other students, who also sound like us, instead of really complicated academic language.”