KU Libraries names chemistry faculty Shuai Sun 2024 Textbook Hero

As an assistant teaching professor of chemistry at KU, Shuai Sun helps students understand fundamental components of the physical world, how various elements can interact with and transform each other. Now Sun has added new forms of interaction and connection in his classes with the creation of the open access textbook “Breaking Barriers: Diversity and Equity in Chemistry,” for which he has been named KU Libraries’ 2024 Textbook Hero.   

Sun created the textbook in collaboration with students and transformed the work to an Open Educational Resource (OER) — a book that is free to use and available to anyone — with the support of KU Libraries. The textbook introduces important minority chemists and their research to students in introductory and General Chemistry courses, showing how chemistry interacts with modern society and affects human life every day.  

Shuai Sun

Sun’s teaching and work with students have earned him various recognitions, including the 2023 HOPE Award — to Honor an Outstanding Progressive Educator — given to an exceptional faculty member by KU’s senior class. His work on the “Breaking Barriers: Diversity and Equity in Chemistry” open textbook incorporated multiple layers of student engagement, including the idea for the textbook itself being sparked, in part, from conversations with students. The chemists featured in “Breaking Barriers: Diversity and Equity in Chemistry” were nominated and selected by students, and students wrote chapters for the book while also helping to construct quizzes and homework.  

Published via KU Libraries’ Pressworks platform, the textbook highlights seven minority chemists, including their backgrounds and work, introducing the concepts of their research, their impact in chemistry, and the ways they changed the world.  

“All the different concepts fit together, and students are really interested in that,” Sun said.   

He was drawn to creating an OER textbook in part because of the flexibility and adaptability of the format that lends itself to collaboration and expansion. 

“It’s a growing project. It’s not going to stop right here,” Sun said. “That’s the idea and the beauty of the renewable assignment approach.” 

That renewable approach includes continuing student feedback and involvement to grow the textbook and enrich the content to feature more minority chemists and their work. The textbook’s OER format also allows for open sharing with colleagues at KU and other colleges and universities. 

“Lots of other chemistry professors already asked me, ‘How do I see this book?’” Sun said. “I told them I will share everything with you. That’s the whole spirit of OER. You can have all the answers, all the explanations, all the pictures, all the articles. You can use it in whatever way you want.” 

The OER format also promotes equity and accessibility, lowering costs for students. 

“Textbooks are really expensive nowadays,” Sun said. “It’s a semi-monopoly controlled by a few major publishing companies.”   

Some students may try to get by without buying the textbook, Sun said, but they have to buy an access code to complete the homework. Sun has seen affordability challenges affect students and wanted to be part of a solution, making access to both the textbook and the homework system free of charge.  

“So we don’t have students tell me, ‘I can’t buy the homework system right now,’ [or] ‘I can’t afford the textbook right now because I’m waiting for my next paycheck,’” Sun said.  

KU Libraries empower Open Educational Resources through a variety of initiatives. 

“The process of adapting, adopting or creating OER requires considerable effort and more than a little enthusiasm on the part of the author, but we seek to provide support at each step along the way,” said Heather Mac Bean, Open Education Librarian, who worked with Sun on the project. "More instructors are familiar with the affordability issues that students face, and the growing open education landscape, so we really try to meet them where they are, to nurture their interest and support them if they choose to pursue a project." 

KU Libraries assists authors in a few ways, Mac Bean said. The libraries administer the OER Grant Initiative which can provide funds for instructor salaries, paying graduate students to assist with the work or for copyediting to ensure the book has a cohesive look. KU Libraries’ Pressbooks publishing platform empowers authors to develop their book and also store and promote it to others. Librarian expertise with Creative Commons licensing supports authors in understanding the best way to apply a license to their work. The libraries also provide access to OER repositories and help instructors find OER they can use or adapt for their classrooms.   

KU Libraries is continuously partnering across campus in these efforts. Since 2019, the libraries have recognized Textbook Heroes to highlight significant efforts in the KU community to create OERs and reduce costs of course materials for students.  

"Dr. Sun intuitively realized and leveraged so many of the benefits of OER, like the ability to fill existing gaps, address diversity, collaborate with students to create renewable content, and increase educational opportunity for all students in his courses,” said Josh Bolick, Head of the David Schulenburger Office of Scholarly Communication and Copyright. “It has been an ideal collaboration, and our pleasure to support him and work with him.” 

Sun values the cooperation. 

“Throughout this whole process I got a lot of help from different librarians,” Sun said. “Collaboration, technology support, Writing Center collaboration. I got help from them all along.” 

Though the process and time commitment involved in creating an OER textbook was more complex than Sun imagined when he first set out, the encouragement and expertise of library collaborators helped him move through the challenges of getting the book and homework system completed and available online. 

“If I didn’t have support from the library … I don’t think I could have gotten it done,” he said. 


KU Libraries and the Shulenburger Office of Scholarly Communication & Copyright, in partnership with the Office of Communications & Advancement and the Open Educational Resources (OER) Working Group, are pleased to acknowledge and express gratitude for advocacy and innovation in course materials affordability at the University of Kansas. Textbook Heroes are members of the KU community who've taken extraordinary initiative to increase access to and affordability of required course materials by implementing and advocating for OER and other low and no cost course materials. Launched in Spring 2019, a new cohort of Textbook Heroes is announced each year during Open Education Week, which occurs in the Spring semester.