Umpqua Community College physics professor Mick Davis attended Pacific University as an undergraduate mostly because the university recruited him to wrestle, he says.
He grew up in Bethel, Alaska, a town only accessible by plane or boat with a population of 6,000. His dad is a heavy equipment operator and his mom taught physical education at the high school and was a paralegal.
Davis would have worked in construction if his dad didn’t persuade him to go to college. He never expected he would write a physics textbook.
Davis recently received a grant from Open Oregon — a state program that funds educators who want to produce low- or no-cost educational resources that can be accessed online, like his new textbook, “Body Physics: Motion to Metabolism.”
UCC students often can’t afford textbooks produced by traditional publishing companies, Davis said. Writing the textbook ensured all of his students could access his class material. Davis said the process of writing the textbook in a more narrative format than typical textbooks has also helped his teaching.
College textbook prices have risen faster than medical services, housing prices and college tuition, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics and census data using a 2012 report from the think tank American Enterprise Institute.
Between 1978 and 2012, textbooks prices have increased 812 percent. The runner-up, medical services, increased 575 percent. Textbooks can cost as much as $300, according to the National Association of College Stores.
“Students are basically not buying textbooks at UCC,” Davis said. UCC librarian Jennifer Lantrip has been collecting data on textbook purchases at the college, according to Davis. The News-Review couldn’t reach Lantrip in time to request the data. She will be presenting her findings at a presentation about Davis’ book on Jan. 24, he said.
“Sometimes financial aid doesn’t come through until two weeks into the term so students will wait two weeks to buy their textbook,” Davis said. “That’s a huge deficit.”
For students who pay tuition to attend larger universities such as Pacific, like Davis did, the annual cost of textbooks — $655 on average, according to NACS — is relatively small.
“But here at UCC, where the expense is so much lower, that textbook can be a significant part,” Davis said. “We’re just trying to lower as many barriers as possible for our students, financial or otherwise.”
In 2015 and 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed bills funding open educational resources such as Davis’ textbook. He has been using an OER textbook in his classes for the last couple years, he said.
“That immediately saved students hundreds of dollars each term,” Davis said.
That textbook was broader than what Davis needed for his introductory physics classes, however. He decided to write his own OER with content precisely fitted to his courses.
Davis wrote his in a narrative format using real scenarios and examples from the human body to teach each fundamental physical principle.
One of Davis’ favorite sections of the textbook is a chapter in which he teaches students the scientific method by telling a true story about a friend who used the scientific method to identify what was causing her migraines.
Davis’ student, Ronnie Arnold, said the narrative format helped him memorize concepts.
“Remembering everything is a breeze,” Arnold said. “Mick will actually say, ‘Here’s an everyday example,’ and it will go into a paragraph with a real-world example. It helps you relate to what you just learned and somehow it sticks with you.”
Arnold, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, wants to enter the UCC physical therapy program soon. He said he uses Davis’ textbook daily for his other courses too.
Before UCC, Arnold worked in armed security and was injured on the job. He needed surgery during his class with Davis and anticipated missing classes.
Luckily, Arnold said, Davis offered students extra credit to find errors in the draft of the textbook. Without a traditional publishing company, Davis’ editors have been his students.
Arnold said he spent over 40 hours editing the book to accrue as much extra credit as possible before his surgery. Davis said Arnold’s edits were crucial.
The draft textbook is currently available to students online and Davis is still editing.
With a background only in sciences, writing a textbook in a narrative format wasn’t easy, he said. But it has helped him become a better educator.
“It really made me stop and think more about how I understand the material versus how students will understand,” Davis said.