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Friday, October 16, 2009

The growing OACM movement...

The October 2009 issue of the Hewlett Foundation has an article about the open access course materials (OACM) movement. The piece talks about the growing usage of OACM in the community college space in particular, where textbook affordability can be as much of a challenge as tuition affordability for some students. To date the Hewlett Foundation has contributed over US$50M in grants to the OACM movement.

The piece mentions the growing adoption of an open access textbook for statistics available via Connexions, one of the leaders in OACM from a content-quality perspective. With the adoption of one textbook at one community college alone, the piece estimates that roughly $80,000 was saved for students -- and eight other institutions also adopted the text. For many these numbers are compelling reason to consider OACM.

However, few things are true panaceas, even in the area of textbook affordability. Quality plagues much of the OACM movement currently. As the article notes, of 250 known OA books in the pipeline, only 29 have been peer reviewed for quality, and only 30 for ADA compliance. As more faculty at institutions adopt OACM, it will be interesting to see the impact on overall educational affordability that occurs as a result of lost revenue that normally supports things like financial aid and tuition sustainability, particularly among the community colleges.

One argument in the article that was particularly compelling and that I had heard less of to date was the argument about faculty regaining control of educational content. It would be interesting to see if the feedback they report faculty getting would be sustained once the volume of content available in the open source space increases.

If OACM is here to stay, as it looks like it might be, then it would behoove stores to begin thinking about how to incorporate OACM options among other course material choices for students. Remaining the "one-stop" location with the most accurate information on requirements for all course material needs is an advantage of stores that should not be given up just because some of the materials are available digitally for free. The question I have relates to the financial sustainability of OACM over the long term. Perhaps there is a role for stores to play that could balance the desire for improved affordability with a return to the OACM movement to continue producing lower cost course materials (while maintaining quality).

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