The Future of Textbooks
The cost of college goes beyond tuition: housing, commuting expenses, living expenses. The last thing a college student wants to face is the exaggerated price tags on textbooks. Worldwide, students face excruciating class material costs with very little hope for recycled, used material as publishers release new editions every two years.
Open textbooks is one solution to the problem. Textbook prices have outpaced inflation 2-to-1 in the past two decades, says a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. They account for 26% of tuition and fees at four-year public universities and nearly three-quarters of costs at community colleges. Open textbooks allow professors to take creative commons information and offer it to their students for free, or for a low price of $10 to $20 for a printed copy. This is something the non-profit student advocacy network has been pushing for since 2003. Sometimes it gets more customized than open textbooks though. Different schools have tried to tackle this epidemic in interesting ways. Here’s a few interesting stories about the future of the textbook world.
At Westport High School in Connecticut, math students are now being integrated into a “less is more” online math program. The high school tossed out their math textbooks and are now teaching math through a custom-designed online curriculum thanks to a partnership with HeyMath!, an Indian company.
Colleges and Universities
At Rice University, Richard Baraniuk sought a replacement for textbooks by introducing open-source learning. He quotes Marvin Minsky, “Can you imagine there was a time when the books in a library didn’t talk to each other?” He envisions open-source textbooks available for the Internet that authors could contribute to and update continuously—“not every two years, but every twenty-five seconds”—and that could be interactive, letting students click on equation in their math book or a molecule in their chemistry book to interact with the subject and learn through a dynamic, online experience.
He describes this open-source system as an “intellectual property network that makes sharing safe.” Unlike the music industry, where music is pirated through “rip, share, and burn,” Richard talks about an easily understandable enabler that makes information common source, like a library talking to its community-available books and expanding textbooks into a dynamic, online interface. It would operate under the Creative Commons license. He claims this method would be a success because educators write textbooks to “make common knowledge and make an impact, not to make bucks; we’re not talking Harry Potter.”
Rice University is not the only big-name campus college that’s jumped onto this train, either. MIT also has an open-source learning website. Both MIT and Rice University generate an average of 500,000 unique visitors a month.
American Sentinel University has invested in a customized online course material similar to Westport High School, where their textbooks have been condensed into relevant material for their courses. The online material was integrated into 20% of their curriculum in 2008 and expects another 25% to be integrated in 2009. The average cost of course materials has dropped from $120 to $64 due to this innovation.
Pearson Education, one of the leading publishers of educational textbooks, has been offering hundreds of their popular textbooks as e-books since 2004. These e-books provide up to a 50% savings for students that are willing to invest into the digital technology.