Lander Professor Gets PAL Award
Tuesday, Jan 15, 2019

Lee VartanianLander University Professor of Teacher Education Dr. Lee Vartanian recently received a PAL Award, recognizing him as a Professor for Affordable Learning.

The award, conferred by the Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries (PASCAL), is part of the South Carolina Affordable Learning (SCALE) initiative, that seeks to reduce the cost of higher education by promoting the use of low-cost and no-cost learning materials.

Vartanian said that he has “noticed an uptick in the past 10 years or so in textbook prices.”

He cited the example of a book that he used in a course that he taught in the past. “It was a really good textbook, but it wasn’t a hundred and forty dollars good,” he said.

The next time he taught the course, he had students to pay $45 to establish an account with a national teacher organization, allowing them to connect to journal articles “that were really useful and helpful.”

Aside from their cost, Vartanian, who chairs Lander’s Teacher Education Department, has another problem with textbooks, too.

“A textbook is just so inherently boring,” he said.

Vartanian was recognized for changing the way he went about teaching a course called Global Issues in Education. Previously, he had used a textbook that discussed education in different countries. In the chapter on Israel, for instance, an Israeli teacher education professor talked about the history of education in that particular country.

“It was interesting,” he said, “but you can go online and see videos within Israeli schools; you can watch a TEDtalk of an Israeli teacher, you can see blogposts from teachers who are working in Israeli schools, these kinds of things where you can actually hear from teachers and get a window into schools.”

Best of all, such sources are free.

Vartanian called the switch to free and open source materials in that course and in the other undergraduate classes he teaches “a refreshing change. When you create your own content, you’re taking charge of what you think is the good stuff,” he said.

Vartanian called content provided over interactive websites and through videos, blogs and people with multiple perspectives “very fresh. And you can click into that information, so if I’m reading about something historical online and I hear about this character, I can google that person. Or there may be a hyperlink that allows you to learn more, and you can just take a deep dive into that,” he said.

Some of Vartanian’s assignments require students to share what they found as they dug deeper into a subject. “I’m constantly being surprised by the things they bring to me that I’ve never heard of before,” he said.

Vartanian isn’t the only Lander professor making use of free and open source texts. More than 400 courses taught at Lander during the spring, roughly a third of all courses, will incorporate such materials.

Vartanian still uses books in some of the graduate classes he teaches.

“There are some excellent textbooks that are of value,” he said. He mentioned one that he considered so good that he advised students who purchased it not to sell it back. He added, however, that “if a book is not of that caliber, then maybe it’s not worth buying.”

Many students work jobs and pay for the privilege of attending Lander. Offering textbook-free classes, he said, is one way that faculty members can “be good stewards of their investment.”       

Vartanian said it was “nice to be recognized for providing value to our students.”