Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sick of Paying for Textbooks? Get Them Now, Free and Online

Textbook Stack
Textbook Stack (Photo credit: greenasian)
by Associate Professor David Glance, Director, Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia, The Conversation:

In the same way that free open online courseware is threatening to disrupt traditional universities, open textbook initiatives such as OpenStax College from Rice University threaten to do the same to the traditional textbook market.

OpenStax College has taken five of the most popular topics taught in American universities and produced high quality peer-reviewed textbooks that are available for anyone to download for free.
OpenStax College aims to try and save students at least $90 million over five years by capturing 10% of the US textbook market.

But this is not the first open access textbook venture. Sites like Bookboon and Flat World Knowledge offer free online and downloadable versions of their texts with print versions available at a price. But the difference is that these sites have strong associations with publishers, whereas OpenStax College is run through a university.

Authors of textbooks in Flat World Knowledge receive a royalty on sales of printed versions of their textbooks, whereas authors contributing towards Rice University’s venture are volunteering their efforts. Bookboon funds open access through the inclusion of advertising in the books.

The move to electronic textbooks is something that students have adopted with gusto. In a summary of research at Indiana University over 1,700 students were surveyed for their attitudes and use of e-Textbooks: 87% of students reported reading e-Texbooks over paper versions, while 68% of students never printed any part of their texts, reading everything digitally.

The survey also revealed that the primary reading device was their laptops and only 1% used a mobile device or an e-Reader (this may be a reflection of the time of the study which covered 2009-2011, as iPads were relatively new in 2009).

In 2012, MIT teamed up with Flat World Knowledge to provide textbooks for their OpenCourseWare courses. Presumably this will continue with the edX venture.

With the average textbook costing between $50 and $300, the availability of free textbooks would be extremely attractive to students. There is certainly anecdotal evidence that students are resorting to using pirated copies of electronic textbooks to avoid the large financial outlay. Certainly, it wasn’t hard to find a pirated copy of the first textbook I looked for on the internet.

Given that free textbooks are available and that they are at least of equal quality as those available from commercial publishers, the question could be raised as to why they are not more commonly used by academics.

On the assumption that most academics would care about students having to pay for a textbook, there are probably a number of reasons they are not more commonly used. The primary reason is that academics don’t know they are available. Another reason might be time pressures in preparing a course.

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment