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The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bankrolling Free Textbooks Via Donations


Some see a simple path to affordable college textbooks: Have each professor write their own course materials and distribute them gratis to enrollees (maybe charge a tad for hard copies). A tiny, but slowly growing, number of faculty are willing to do that.

The downside for students is that raw manuscripts aren’t necessarily as readable and user-friendly as traditionally published textbooks buffed by a team of peer reviewers, editors, proofers, graphic designers, technology magicians, and the like. The price might be free, but sometimes you get what you pay for. A prof could hire services to polish a book, but would either have to eat the cost or charge students much more for the end product.

A Canadian professor tapped into crowdsourcing as a way to have his free book and edit it, too. In a post about faculty putting their own books online, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog noted how Brendan Myers, a professor of philosophy and humanities at Heritage College in Quebec, solicited pledges through Kickstarter to cover professional editing, publishing, and peer-review fees for the philosophy textbook he’s writing. He plans to make the finished book available free to anyone through a Creative Commons license.

Kickstarter provides an online fundraising platform for creative projects, such as novels and films. Myers aimed to raise $5,000, but when his pledge drive ended July 7, he had $16,872 from 707 supporters. The extra will pay for a French translation, English and French audio versions, study guides, and a professional cast to record a dramatic reading of classic philosophy works.

Who knows why 707 people chose to donate to a philosophy text? Maybe some are professors who hope to use the book for their own classes, or budget-minded students planning to take Myers’ course next year, or current students sucking up for a better grade. Certainly, it seems unlikely there are enough donors out there to support an open-access textbook for every higher-education class, but contributions might float a few titles.

Compare Myers’ success at textbook fundraising with that of marketing/branding guru Seth Godin, who’s published a passel of books the old-fashioned way and is now also using Kickstarter to fund a retail campaign for his upcoming title. As of July 12, Godin had raised $267,675 from 3,925 contributors, with four days to go before the deadline. More than 1,000 of the donors gave $100 or more.

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