Anybody want some free textbooks?

Audrey Watters is an education reform enthusiast. She has written many blogs about the various reforms taking place in our world today. Among them is the idea of “open textbooks”. After reading her post I was left with a feeling of both excitement and disappointment (more so of the latter). Allow me to explain this cnocept and why it may or may not be happening in a town near you.

David Wiley Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University speaks about the wonders of open textbooks

First let’s define the terms . Open in this case meaning free or cheap (but preferably cheap) access as well as digital access. And of course the next part “textbook” an arbitrary tool students are forced to purchased at usually astronomically high prices only to be devalued as soon as they turn a page and possibly never to be read again at the end of the term, not to mention a restrictive tool used ot teachers usually in lecture form. So when we put these two words together what do we get? The free and cheap access to a once arbitrary tool which allows flexibility for teachers as well as the ability to edit content as they see fit. Sounds great doesn’t it. Sadly Water’s goes on to state in her post:

most professors (88%) still prefer (and assign) the printed versions of textbooks and other class materials. The survey also found that while 32% of faculty reported making digital versions of textbooks available, just 2% of students said this was the primary way in which they accessed the materials..

From these numbers it is clear that not all professors have taken advanage of this radical idea. Even thogh Watters goes on to share that “Coursesmart said that among the students it surveyed, more said they were likely to bring a laptop (51%) than a print textbook (39%) to class” Disappointed yet? Well ld school professors aren’t the only obstacle. If you haven’t guessed it by now its big business textbook distributors. Surprise! Free doesn’t come easy.

The issue of copyrighted material has led to lawsuits such as Boundless v Pearson, Cenage, and McMillan. This type of bad publicity is a hinderance to the open textbook movement. As well as companies attemps to cash in on poor desperate students with digital access to textbooks at a reduced cost to their paperback counterparts.

Alas their is a glimmer of hope. The state of Utah is taking a step towards open textbooks in an announcement made in February. Also innovative professors such as Erik Christensen professor at South Florida state college have utilized open textbooks with great results. Take a moment to listen to his own testimonial.

Allow me to reiterate some key points that stood out to me:

1. 700 pages worth of material for $13

2. The flexibility for free flowing class structure in opposiion to the rigors of a table of contens

3,4, and 5. 700 PAGES WORTH OF MATERIAL FOR $13!!!

In all the idea of open textbooks could be a great way of using the benefits of technology to lesson the cost of materials as well as allow educators more flexibility in teaching. Change is hard to come by, but this is a change that could do wonderful things for education