Flat World Knowledge continues to pick up a lot of media attention. More importantly, they are also picking up textbook adoptions – over 250 at over 170 institutions at this point. If you are a college store, you should see if your campus is on the list – we were surprised and impressed by the diversity of institutions on the list.
Like all new technologies and ideas, open access course materials propose a number of opportunities and challenges for college stores and institutions. With the coming HEOA requirements for campuses around course materials, stores will need to know and report what textbooks are being adopted—even those that are free and open source. That creates an opportunity for stores. In June the NACS Board approved a position statement on open educational resources (OER) and open access course materials (OACM). That position statement is largely consistent with those by other higher education groups, such as EDUCAUSE, ACRL, and the student PIRGs.
Stores have the opportunity to provide OER/OACM content in a variety of formats, and should do so as part of fulfilling the academic mission of the students and institutions they support. One way stores could participate in these models is by providing a print-on-demand solution and other options that improve accessibility at the local level. At a minimum, stores should provide access to the digital versions of the content, even if it is free, so that the store remains the primary source where students can be certain they are obtaining the correct content and materials required to be successful in their academic experience. Open access models like Flat World will by necessity change some of the long established practices among college stores – such as the way in which we manage inventory and returns. We must think of this inventory from more of a “just-in-time” perspective, and accept that returns may not be an option. That, in the end, may be a good thing for the industry. Lessons we learn about handling OER/OACM inventory might be applicable to more traditional textbook inventory – allowing us to further reduce costs for stores, for publishers, and most importantly, for students.