Published February 4, 2019
“Do we have a final?” a student asked after seeing a large cake and a few extra guests on hand for the last day of Jessica Kruger’s PUB 320 fall semester course. Indeed, there was a final exam to take. But before that, the class needed to celebrate.
These young scholars — 75 undergraduate students in all — made history by spending the semester authoring their own textbook. Small groups of graduate students have authored content before. But never so many undergraduates, according to Kruger, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions, who is known for her innovative teaching methods in public health.
So, before taking their PUB 320 final, Kruger’s students got to savor their achievement — with cake and an unveiling of their scholarly work, “Models and Mechanisms of Public Health.” Every student in the class received a bound copy of the textbook, 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 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.
Kruger addressed her students once they were all assembled in 146 Diefendorf Hall on the South Campus on that final day of class in mid-December. To keep the celebration a surprise, Kruger told her students to remain outside the classroom until everyone arrived.
As students entered the large lecture hall, they were greeted with handshakes and smiles from SPHHP Dean Jean Wactawski-Wende and faculty members Gary Giovino and Sarahmona Przybyla, as well as a few other special guests. Stacks of the textbooks were hidden underneath an SPHHP banner.
Kruger asked for a drum roll, then lifted the banner, revealing the books.
Students clapped and cheered. Kruger beamed. “You guys are beyond amazing. Remember on the first day of class I said you are the subject and the researcher? You really are, so thank you for being that,” she said, and then read the book dedication aloud to the class:
“To the students who contributed to this book, I hope this project proves to you that you are truly amazing, that you can do it, no matter how big or crazy the task may be, that together we can create something bigger than all of us. I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished. It’s been truly an honor to work with you this semester, to watch you grow as a person and as a scholar. May you always reach your goals, no matter how lofty they are.”
Mark McBride, a UB alumnus and senior library strategist for the SUNY Office of Library & Information Services, commended 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 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.”
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.”