Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Open Source Textbooks

I am in the middle of a conversation elsewhere on the net about open source textbooks and open source in education in general. I think this is certainly the way to go. The print industry moves far too slowly for the field of educational tech. anyway.

And speaking of educational technology; There is an article in the Feb. 15th Chronicle called "One Way to Rein In the Cost of Textbooks: Make Them Free." It is by Paul F. deLespinasse, who is from Adrian and has four textbooks available online. He says that given modern technology, "there is no reason why textbooks could not be extremely cheap, if not free." He says that most of the cost comes from things like printing, distribution and marketing. He also said that texts that are radically innovative never make it through the publication process. I love this point "...faculty members who do not wish to rely on miracles to produce texts based on new approaches to the subjects can post their materials on the Internet. That would increase the richness and diversity of materials that instructors can choose from as they develop courses, and would benefit students both intellectually and financially.

What is interesting about his take is that I assumed that true experts in the field, seasoned, experienced scholars like deLespinasse would not be interested in open source texts. I thought that adjunct faculty or up and coming scholars would be more interested in this, but his own work proves me wrong.

He points out in his article that some of the disadvantages of online publishing is that online texts are not subject to review and the editorial process. For myself, this just points out how crucial organizations like MERLOT are.

The article is worth checking out. (Unfortunately, the Chronicle is still a very commercial publication, and to read the article online, one must have a paid subscription.)

1 comment:

  1. Your post popped up on my Google alert, and I see you are in Tacoma - I'm a UPS grad - so I thought I'd respond. (I'm also the director of the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign)

    I thought deLespinasse's piece was great, too.

    Free, online open textbooks may hold the key to reining in costs, because they introduce competition into the existing publisher-dominated market. For this to happen, there must be a supply of open textbooks, which deLespinasse covers. But that is only half of the equation.

    The other half – that free, open textbooks will only save students money if instructors use them. Now, there may not be an open textbook that meets every instructor’s criteria. At least not yet. So the first step is for instructors to include open textbooks in their search for the most appropriate course materials. Increased awareness, interest and demand for open textbooks could lead to a larger supply and a supporting infrastructure from institutions. Furthermore, if enough faculty are willing to make the switch to an appropriate open textbook, commercial publishers will feel pressure to produce better books at lower prices.

    We've been working for five years using many different strategies to lower textbook costs. This is one of our best hopes.

    You might be interested in reading more about the campaign and signing the faculty statement -