French professors embrace alternative textbook initiative

French professor Melinda Cro in her office. Cro has spearheaded the creation of an alternative textbook for students in the modern languages department. (Sreenikhil Keshamoni | Collegian Media Group)

Inspired by the Kansas State Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative, Melinda Cro, associate professor of French, has spearheaded the creation of an alternative textbook for students in the modern languages department.

The Kansas State Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative offers funding to instructors who create alternatives to conventional textbooks. The cost of traditional textbooks are often an added stress on students, professors and parents, which this program hopes to relieve.

Cro said she felt that many entry-level language textbooks were far too costly for the purpose they were serving.

“I tested a variety of different textbooks,” Cro said. “Some of them were great, but they were not cost effective for one semester. Some were $200 to $250, and maybe you could justify that over the course of two to three semesters but we just couldn’t for one semester.”

When Cro discovered the initiative through K-State Today, she felt it was an interesting new opportunity. She applied for the grant and was soon approved for funding.

“It has definitely been a process,” Cro said. “It has been challenging, but in a good way. It’s about trying to figure out the ways in which to facilitate access to the material. And also the ways to look at a variety of different themes, how to incorporate culture and grammar and literature into a textbook.”

That process has consisted of Cro taking material from various different sources and compiling them on Canvas for her courses. Many of her online grammar resources were sourced by the University of Texas at Austin and her Cultural and Literary Readings handbook.

Cro compiled these materials into modules on Canvas for easy access. Each semester that she used the textbook, she asked students for feedback on how they felt it benefited their learning experience. From there, she would make small revisions and even one larger content revision.

“For the students, the cost is low,” Cro said. “They pay a flat fee to the library, I think it’s $10. … it doesn’t always click that it is necessarily a textbook that took place of something else. It’s just a series of activities and worksheets, but I’ve had comments like ‘Oh I really enjoyed these materials.’”

Kathleen Antonioli, associate professor of French, has also taken advantage of the incentive.

“I had already taught with an open alternative textbook, because I used Dr. Cro’s textbook for French 4 and then I decided to do my own for French 715 textbook, which is 19th century French Literature,” Antonioli said.

Antonioli also found the process to be a positive one. Much like Cro, her experience was one of trial and error. She also got feedback from students after each semester and made small revisions.

Both Antonioli and Cro made it clear that developing an alternative textbook creates additional roadblocks and sometimes makes access to class materials more of a hassle. However, it was clear that the cost reduction and personalization of materials made the process worth it to each of them.

“It’s been pretty successful,” Cro said.