Open Textbooks

A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Affordability 

Key Points

  1. Introduction
    1. The average student spends $900 on textbooks a year (26% of average tuition, 76% average community college tuition)
    2. New laws
      1. Price and revision information needs to be provided to faculty
      2. objects in a “bundle” must be offered individually
      3. text books need to be lsited during registration
    3. High cost tactics
      1. new editions – regardless of changes in subject matter
      2. costly bundles (workbooks, CDs, pass-codes)
      3. resale sabotage – cheaper things with no re-sale value
    4. Cost reduction for traditional text books
      1. rentals
      2. e-books
      3. e-readers
    5. Alternate models
      1. Open-source textbooks: available online under an open-source license, free digital access, low cost printing and customization.
  2. Findings
    1. Textbook affordability solutions must satisfy a wide range of student preferences
      1. students are split between print and digital – leaning toward print.
      2. A combination may be best
      3. Most students prefer to rent some books and buy some others
    2. Traditional cost-reducing options only appeal to a subset of students, and therefore cannot reduce much of the overall market cost.
    3. Open Textbooks can reduce costs for all students and have potential long-term sustainability
      1. Course reduce costs by 80% over the market
      2. Sustainability
        1. Many students would purchase hard copies of text books even if digital copies were available for free
        2. 76% said they would support a small fee to subsidize open textbook authors
  3. Conclusion
    1. the solution must reduce costs and appeal to a wide range of students, both of which open textbooks can accomplish
    2. Open textbooks can incentivize publishers to respect students as consumers
  4. Recommendations
    1. Publishers should develop models that can produce high quality, reasonably priced books (e.g Flat World Knowledge)
      1. Print on demand is more cost effective
      2. sales revenue remained constant rather than dwindling because of used books. This is good for the company and attracts strong authors.
      3. Attracts faculty with low costs and personalization.
    2. Faculty should use open and other affordable textbooks when possible
    3. College and governments should invest in open textbooks and other sustainable models
    4. Students should spread information about open textbooks.

Discussion Questions

  1. Students who prefer print text books cite readability/notetaking, what can be done to make open textbooks more readable and conducive to note taking?
  2. Why are students choosing to rent some of their books? Is there something that can be done to make these books more relevant, so they’d be more likely to keep them?

Open Textbooks: Why? What? How? When? 

Historical Context

  1. August 2007 – 24 attendees (educators, authors, foundation officials, administrators, publishers/entrepreneurs) gathered to discuses open text books

Key Points

  1. Context for open textbooks
    1. Technology makes low-cost distribution of high quality IP possible
    2. International Trends
      1. indigenous knowledge is becoming more evident.
        1. People and governments in developing nations are opposed to “academic colonialism”
        2. They do not want their indigenous knowledge to be replaced by foreign education
      2. Teacher training – teachers need to be trained to use OER
      3. Existing, effective networks need to be identified and supported.
      4. Mobile platforms (especially cell phones)
    3. Goals for OER – six dimensions
      1. Free – gratis
      2. Made very available
        1. Many use CC, but some feel it places too many restrictions on IP
        2. “freely available on the web for printing, use for any purpose, and carrying the uninhibited right to modify, translate or repackage”
        3. technological platform
          1. available on multiple platforms (e.g. mobile)
          2. technology must be flexible and have wide capacities
          3. UI should be simple
      3. high quality – implies standards, but this is difficult to maintain and agree on
      4. modifiable
      5. adaptable worldwide
      6. useful to teachers AND students
    4. Other factors
      1. OER is in need of strategic sharing – of ideas, knowledge, skills, information and resources
      2. Colleagues want to connect with one another positive impact on student learning and outcome
      3. ultimate context is the
  2. Why do we need open textbooks?
    1. Cost of textbooks has risen dramatically
    2. The usefulness of textbooks is declining as more and more material is available for free online or more cheaply in other ways
    3. In higher-ed publishers are publishing new editions unnecessarily to curb lost revenue from used books, students are displeased by this, and buy fewer books. Publishers sell each book for more.
    4. In developing countries schools can’t afford books, and publishers don’t market to them because there will not be much return.
      1. Sometimes low quality books are produced, which shortens their lifespan.
      2. Textbooks are especially important in theses contexts because teachers are less trained and need more help from a textbook.
      3. On the other hand adoption is not as complicated and they are ready to skip over older technologies and use things like mobile phones.
    5. In K-12 costs are rising because of complicated approval processes
  3. What are open textbooks?
    1. Exists on a continuum between static digitized textbook and super open course. The goal is to combine open textbooks and open courseware
    2. Features
      1. Dynamic – easily altered, updated, improved, localized or customized. Presented multiple ways, added to, extended, remixed.
      2. Increased student engagement
        1. create communities of students and teachers
        2. meta data to measure outcomes and improve teaching
        3. teacher professional development within communities
      3. incorporate supplemental learning resources easily and quickly through links to experiences, more information, etc.
    3. Barriers
      1. Cost (creation and sustaining). Community development is useful, but the movement is too big to rely on volunteers.
      2. Inertia – it is hard to change
      3. Technology – outdated or missing infrastructure
      4. Distribution and discoverability
      5. lack of quality standards
      6. IP and digital rights
      7. Politics
  4. How will open textbooks be produced and used?
    1. Production Issues
      1. Quality – professional designers? crowd sourcing? continuous feedback?
      2. Accessibility
        1. open platform
        2. modular – divided up so that pieces can be used on their own
        3. flexible
        4. varying levels of capacity (# of users)
      3. Sustainability
      4. Community and convergence
  5. When will open textbooks be available in sufficient quantity and quality to have a positive impact?
    1. 5 years should see significant change
    2. Next steps
      1. Infrastructure capacity building
        1. standards for quality
        2. standards for compatibility
        3. enabling tools
        4. supporting discoverability
        5. involving institutions
        6. marketing the movements
      2. clearinghouse network facilitator
        1. connect the dots between OT, OCW and OER by creating a place where people could describe projects and collaborate on them
      3. community formation – built around common interests
      4. funding and publicizing demonstration projects – funding and making examples of well done projects
      5. research

Discussion Questions

  1. They guessed that within five years there would be some very significant use of OER replacing text books at a lower cost. This was in 2007, have we seen this happen?


  1. The content is driving the pedagogy, when the pedagogy should be driving the content.
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