Open Source Textbooks save Money and Time

Text book prices have sparked interest for a new publication idea: open source, open-license textbooks offered online for free by their authors or by non-profit and sometimes even commercial publishers.

The idea resulted from tuition rate hikes and more restrictions on financial aid which have caused pressure on students, professors and politicians to find alternative textbook solutions.

“College textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation but have followed close behind tuition increases. Increasing at an average of 6 percent per year, textbook prices nearly tripled from December 1986 to December 2004, while tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall inflation was 72,” explained Cornelia M. Ashby of the U.S. Government Accounting Office of Public Affairs.

California has already instituted use of open source text books in their K-12 education system. The California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP) began in 2001 as a collaborative public/private undertaking to address the high cost and consistent shortages of K-12 textbooks. Massachusetts, according to The Los Angeles Times, also “has an organization called Institution of Technology’s OpenCourseWare that has placed virtually its entire curricula online.”

Several open-license, free curriculum organizations are already offering students free textbooks, some of which align with state scope and sequence requirements: Flat World Knowledge, Eleven Learning, Apple’s ibooks textbooks and Apple’s iTunes U.

Included in the war for text book freedom is a university that has just announced their initiative for a new online way to view college curriculum. Rice University will be working with Opensstax College, funded by grant and private foundations, to provide open source, free text books that cover most college material for Rice University’s students.

Although Rice University, like other academic entities, has been able to utilize some open source textbooks, problems do exist because open-license authors do not always make money from selling their text books. In the past, one of the most expensive parts of making an open text book is reserving the image rights, another problem.

Despite the few possible setbacks in the process of producing open source textbooks, COSTP “has clearly shown — over years — that open textbooks authored to well-established K-12 state curriculum framework standards can 1) significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the cost of the current $400 m [million] + line item for California’s K-12 textbooks; 2) significantly increase the quality and range of content afforded to California’s K-12 textbooks; 3) put a permanent end to California’s K-12 textbook shortages; and, 4) make possible a fully portable content holdings database that scales with the introductions of new learning and classroom technologies,”  claims COSTP.

 Oregon has started to follow California’s lead by introducing new legislation guided toward lowering the cost of text books. House Bill 4058 in section one states, “The Joint Boards of Education shall examine and recommend adoption of strategies for making textbooks more affordable for students at all post-secondary institutions in this state,” according to Section I D clarifies that a work group will be created to examine the viability of promoting “instructor – created open source textbooks by Oregon faculty or teams of Oregon faculty.”

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.