Jan 9, 2017

Students Conduct Research

Students conduct research and do work in a tech lab on campus. Photo courtesy of the NYU Photo Bureau

During a recent gathering of NYU’s educational technology community, those of us who partner with faculty to enhance instruction through digital tools discussed the ways in which technology might also contribute to the mission of making NYU more affordable for more students.

There are two areas where technology at NYU already advances our academic mission. One is through accessibility, allowing us to reach audiences who logistically have difficulty accessing content or brick-and-mortar spaces where instruction happens. The second way is through adaptability, which gives learners personalized pathways to access course material.

Now we turn to a third possible application of technology: leveraging digital tools and approaches to help us use existing resources more efficiently and significantly reduce student costs. Dean Tom Carew, a member of the Affordability Steering Committee and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, recognized this opportunity for creative synergies between technology-enhanced education and affordability.

“There is a clear and identifiable opportunity to have an impact on issues of affordability at NYU,” said Dean Carew. “I am extremely proud of the early strides already made by our Office of Educational Technology. They have begun to partner with our faculty to eliminate the need for certain required textbooks and software by providing high quality, free, and open educational resources — saving almost $200,000 across nearly 600 students in Arts & Science.”

As Dean Carew noted, a core piece of the spring 2017 pilot is to identify courses that could benefit from having open educational resources: high quality course materials that are freely available.

Allen Mincer, Professor of Physics and Chair of the Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Senators Council, has already embarked on a living experiment to cease the use of textbooks in his popular course, “Quarks to Cosmos.” He will replace two required textbooks with original online lecture videos, interactive modules, and simulations that he is creating in partnership with the FAS Office of Educational Technology and other central university offices.

“No textbook really deals with the material in this course in a way that fits what I wish to teach. But I feel that students need a way to go over the topics covered in lecture, as it is too easy to miss something when it is just heard once,” said Professor Mincer. He continues:

“In the past I partially solved this problem by assigning two textbooks, but even then not all the subjects were covered. The online videos allow students to watch a lecture as many times as they wish and pause to think whenever they would like. Online exercises done after watching each video will help the students gauge what they understood and what they need to review, and statistics accumulated will allow me to determine what material needs to be better explained in person. The expertise of the educational technology staff makes it possible to optimize the various components of the course so that they mutually enhance each other.

If it works as we hope, this course will provide the students with a much deeper education in the subject matter and a more enjoyable experience overall, and save them the cost of two textbooks to boot.”


By adopting a flipped course structure, Professor Mincer is able to tailor his preferred content beyond what a traditional textbook would offer, and thus he can provide students with active learning opportunities during in-class sessions.

Another example of putting this theory into practice is Marc Lieberman, Clinical Professor of Economics. Professor Lieberman will defer costs of over $300 per student by creating his own course materials and problem sets. Additionally, Professor Lieberman’s commitment to affordability has led him to cease the copyright on the textbook that he co-authored, thereby making it freely available.

In both examples mentioned above, all new educational materials that replace existing — and costly — textbooks are designed on three principles: First, the quality must be comparable to that of the paid texts and platforms. Second, the materials must be modular to allow faculty to make changes. Third, resources should be shareable among NYU faculty.

These early examples show how strategic use of educational technology can reduce textbook and platform costs for students while maintaining scholarly quality and promoting re-usability. We believe technology-inspired innovations such as those we are piloting this semester can become extremely valuable tools to support the University’s affordability goal.

Over the coming months, we look forward to sharing updates from our experience at FAS.

Armanda Lewis leads the Office of Educational Technology for the NYU Faculty of Arts & Science.