SUNY Fredonia professor pens first ‘Open SUNY’ online textbook

Dr. Ted Steinberg, Distinguished Teaching Professor at SUNY Fredonia, has written the first chapter in a pilot SUNY project designed to control higher education costs by producing online textbooks and making them available to college students – for free.

“Literature, the Humanit-ies and Humanity,” the sixth book written by Dr. Steinberg, was the first of 15 textbooks written by SUNY professors and accepted by the Open SUNY textbook program for the 2013-14 academic year. Steinberg, whose collegiate career spans four decades, is an enthusiastic supporter of the program and its goal of benefitting students who are confronting ever-increasing textbook prices.

Reed Library Director Randy Gadikian expects the impact of the open textbook movement will be huge.

“Open SUNY will result in dramatic savings for students across the country, as faculty build courses based on texts that can be revised to reflect the best educational practices at little cost,” Gadikian said, adding that Steinberg’s book also reflects Fredonia’s dedication to its students.

Steinberg downplayed the significance of being the program’s first published author. Rather, he points to his “slavish adherence” to deadlines as a key factor.

“I really always try to beat deadlines, so I guess I was the first,” he confessed.

Steinberg’s book, which reflects his 42 years of teaching experience at SUNY Fredonia, is one of three devoted to English among the project’s initial offerings; the remaining 12 target the sciences, math, education, computer science, business, music and anthropology.

Steinberg’s book focuses on the reading and teaching of literature, but it could interest anyone.

“The audience is students who might be English education majors who will be teaching literature. It’s also for, I hope, a general audience of people who might want to read what we consider ‘good literature,’ but who might be put off by thinking that it’s too difficult or too esoteric,” he explained.

It’s also a welcomed departure for Steinberg. His last book, “Jews and Judaism in the Middle Ages,” was a scholarly text that examined Jews and their often misunderstood place during that era.

“I often work in highly specialized fields and I’ve gotten tired of writing for an audience of 15,” Steinberg joked. “I also have a really strong feeling that my profession has done a great job of taking literature away from people, that is, of making it seem inaccessible. This is my answer to that.

“As my career is winding down, I would like to give literature back, make people realize that they can read literature and enjoy it, and that it is enjoyable.”

Support for the online book project was provided by a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant and library funding, along with assistance from librarians and SUNY Press. Though money was originally available for only four books, the high quality of proposals submitted by SUNY faculty spurred libraries to secure additional funds so more books could be made available in electronic format.

Steinberg looks forward to the Open SUNY Text-book catalogue growing in the future and suggests that its mere presence might help control future textbook price hikes. “If it helps to rein (prices) in, that would also be a good thing,” he said. “I really believe in this project and the book.”

Steinberg’s book has already earned high praise in the education field. East Carolina University professor David Scott Wilson-Okamura says Steinberg puts the pleasure back into literature, not by dumbing the books down, but by raising readers to their level.

“His own pages read quickly because he has learned, from many years of experience, what students need to know and where they need help. In particular, he knows where students are likely to get bogged down; and he’s an expert at clearing away the obstacles and misunderstandings that make reading a duty instead of a delight,” Wilson-Okamura said.

Steinberg will use the book in “Epic and Romance,” a 200-level course he’s teaching this semester. Other English Department professors may also include it in their introductory courses.

The book spans some 300 pages and would probably sell for about $16 in a paperback format.

Will there be a printed copy of “Literature, the Humanities and Humanity” in the future?

“I don’t know,” Steinberg said. “I have to see if there is a market for such a thing.”