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Chris Kanich awarded for creating open-source course materials

Chris Kanich

Associate Professor Chris Kanich was named a 2024-25 Open Textbook Faculty Incentive Program awardee. The Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the University Library runs the program, which “encourages faculty to use and develop free open educational resources as alternatives to traditional textbooks for undergraduate courses.” The program was developed in response to student concerns about the high cost of course materials.

Kanich, who is also one of the department’s directors of undergraduate studies, was honored for the course materials he is creating for CS 484, Secure Web Application Development.

“One of the biggest challenges with teaching my class is that it’s in the fast-paced world of web development. Things that are ‘hot’ and ‘best practice’ today will be substantially outdated in literally a few months,” Kanich said.

Kanich is taking the core set of concepts he teaches students and integrating them into a cohesive set of materials written in his voice that are free to use.

“The materials aren’t going to just disappear from the web before I teach the class again,” Kanich said. “The materials will be presented in a way that’s permissive and allows others to help keep the course materials up to date as they continue to teach similar classes.”

Kanich currently uses a collection of links to blog posts that explain relevant topics, posted on his course schedule, but notes shortcomings to this; the posts aren’t written cohesively, and are often part of ads for software that the company hosting the blog sells.

“The core challenge of teaching this class well is to abstract out the more durable concepts that will benefit students in the long run, and focus on those, while also teaching them the topics that are in demand by employers when they are trying to get that all-important first job out of college,” Kanich said.

Also, Kanich noted that the standards behind the web itself have transitioned to a living document model, with an evolving set of open-source technologies. Mirroring that with an open textbook model allows teaching to keep up to date with current technology.

The Open Textbook Faculty Incentive Program will support 13 faculty members this year. The university predicts that in one semester, more than 900 students who enroll in the awardees’ courses could save approximately $110,000 by using the open educational resources instead of buying new textbooks.