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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Open textbook initiatives in the news

Recently there have been several news stories that pertain to open textbook initiatives. Here is a round-up of some of the news.

According to a posting from the Community College Open Textbook Project, The Hewlett Foundation has awarded a grant to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District to manage the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative. The collaborative will expand on the free digital textbook initiative created by the Community College Consortium of Open Educational Resources (CCOER). The grant will help support a campaign to raise awareness about open textbooks on community college campuses and increase the number of free digital textbooks available to students. In addition, community college faculty will be trained on how to utilize free textbooks to meet the learning needs of students.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin introduced the Open College Textbook Act, an open access textbook bill to make textbooks more affordable. The bill would authorize funding for the Secretary of Education to award one-year grants to higher education institutions, professors, and organizations to create introductory level open college textbooks. The textbooks would be made available online and give the public the right to access, customize, and distribute the material. Senator Durbin has been working with the U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, and others on the bill. Rich Williams, U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate commented, “Textbook prices can be the difference between going to college and dropping out because of cost. This bill takes a step toward textbook affordability by calling for more high quality, low-cost options.”

In addition, the Education Commission of the States has released a document that provides a good overview of the various state initiatives for digital and open source textbooks. According to the document, “Arizona, Iowa and Tennessee expanded their definitions of textbooks to include digital content; Virginia has its first open source textbook posted for public review; West Virginia took it a step further and required textbook publishers to provide an interactive version; and Texas and California both have digital textbooks available to their public school students as well as pilot projects in place to test the effectiveness of technology on learning.” The document also includes an informative chart that compares open source textbooks to e-textbooks by affordability, printability, accessibility, availability, features and benefits.

A fourth article from eCampus News says that Florida has implemented a new program called Orange Grove Texts Plus that will give students at state colleges and universities access to 120 free online textbooks. The program is led by the University Press of Florida which will offer students printed textbooks via print-on-demand for about half the price that students pay now. The print textbooks are being made available because results of an Orange Grove survey showed that 75 percent of students prefer to read a print textbook over a digital textbook and 60 percent of students said they would buy a discounted print textbook even if it was available for free online.

As concerns about textbook affordability continue to increase, more states are beginning to utilize legislation to implement open textbook initiatives. As we have mentioned previously, open access course materials propose several opportunities and challenges for college stores and institutions. There is an opportunity for stores to provide open access course materials in a variety of formats and offer print-on-demand solutions to improve accessibility for students. 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 for student content needs.

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