Education without the $200 textbooks
Take a look at your bookcase at home or in the office. Do you see any textbooks? Probably not. Aside from a few key reference books, most of which are already outdated, textbooks rarely last beyond semester’s end.
What’s worse, they’re expensive. Prices for textbooks are rising faster than college tuition. A high school English literature text can cost $200; business textbooks are closing in on $1000.
As a result, students are looking for less expensive alternatives. Used books (if the professor is still using the old edition) are an option. Digital versions and rental options can reduce costs by as much as half. As a last resort, students skip the books, relying on library copies when they must.
Half of too much, however, is still too much. The cost hits students, parents, and communities. Starting in 2001, the California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP) is changing the way textbooks are developed and used in schools. Other communities worldwide have adopted similar programs.
The open textbook movement combines three key concepts
- Open Source content. Most open content is published with Creative Commons or equivalent licensing, meaning that the material is intentionally meant to be freely distributed. The collaborative nature of open source content includes a robust peer review process, ensuring that multiple viewpoints are represented.
- Modular. Unlike monolithic texts, open texts are designed to be assembled according to the educational needs of students and communities. A course on American history in Massachusetts might include additional material about the Adams family while an Oklahoma school could study Jim Thorpe.
- Digital First. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s easy for outdated material to linger in printed texts. Electronic editions can be updated and redistributed easily.
Expensive and wrong
One of the less-expensive textbooks, Discovering Computers, Introductory, is used at one community college. It costs $120 at the college’s bookstore. The current version was published in 2011.
The book is used in a course that it is a prerequisite for graduation.
Remember that the book was updated in 2011. It’s unsettling to see that the list of search engines, the starting point for most online research, includes AltaVista (acquired and decommissioned by Yahoo in 2006), alltheweb.com (also owned and redirected to Yahoo), Cuil.com (whose website is no longer online).
Expensive and irrelevant
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, speaking to a group of tech industry leaders, said that, at a time when demand for technical skills is high and growing, expensive, low-quality, and unimaginative textbooks are an impediment to learning.
Toward high-quality, cost-efficent, and adaptable solutions
While cost-savings is a primary motivator to incorporate open materials, the quality is generally better. One study showed that open textbooks used by three teachers in rural South Africa were of higher quality than proprietary texts. Further, because educators could modify the text, it became practical to translate those texts into local languages.
A switch to electronic, open texts at Tidewater Community College in 2013 has reduced dropout rates in selected courses by six percent while reducing school costs by one-fourth. Students are learning better, said Linda Williams, professor of business administration at Tidewater, because they have access to books without the worry of the expense.
Creating useful educational materials depends on hard work by smart people. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The value comes not from what you pay, but what you get. Here at Focus Eduvation, we develop products and services designed to meet your current needs and goals.