Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Now Everyone Wants to Lower the Cost of Educational Materials. So let's do it.

Professors are dumping expensive textbooks written by their department heads. The White House is continuing the battle against high textbook costs by including them in the 2016-2017 Open Government National Action Plan. The US Senate has the Affordable College Textbook Act.

Newsweek picked up the story of the PIRG's "Billion Dollar Solution" calling for Open Educational Resources (OER's), when it ran an article titled "Can We Put an End to the Textbook Racket?"
College textbook prices have risen over 1,000% since 1971. Students are driven to tough choices from the high textbook costs.

The focus on textbook costs started about 10 years ago by CALPIRG with the release of "Ripoff 101: 2nd Edition- How The Publishing Industry's Practices Needlessly Drive Up Textbook Costs." Back then, the ripoff was from publishers creating expensively customized print editions, and also bundling useless things like CD's or access codes with the print textbooks, both with the intent to destroy resale in the used market. Today it's constantly creating expensive new editions with no value. Other PIRG's have since gotten involved across the country, and some using unique ways to call attention to the textbook cost issue. Students calling attention to costs is the best course of action.

The attention is working. More professors are creating free and open textbooks, but more awareness need to be created to to help faculty understand what options are out there from OER Libraries like OpenStax (Rice U), New Prairie Press (Kansas State U), Open Textbook Library (U of Minnesota), and many others. As David Ernst from the Open Textbook Library said in a recent interview, "There's really no downside to this whole thing." An award was given to a librarian for designing a system that indicates which college courses that do not use a publishers textbook. Add in the White House and Senate initiatives for creating OER's.  People are hearing the message and times are changing.

Costs are coming down with these initiatives, and we are able to help get them in print, cheaply and simply. Students learn best from print formats. A 300 page pdf printed, bound, and shipped to a student in the USA costs just $16.86 from our service. For professors choosing to lower costs by using OER's or their own materials, we are low cost option keeping the print costs down.

We have worked with many professors who abandoned expensive old fashioned textbooks in favor of their own creations. We hear from them that they are in touch with what their students pay, and are active in creating their own materials in their fields of study for their own courses. OpenStax has a cool pdf toolkit for students to use begin a discussion about open options with their professors.

Now OER's and Open Textbooks provide the same low cost option for any instructors who are not able to write their own materials, especially for intro topics. Everyone wants to lower the cost of educational materials, so let's do it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Open Textbooks, OER's and the New Old Coursepack

The debate on Open Textbooks and Open Educational Resources has picked up momentum with a Senate Bill called The Affordable College Textbook Act.

Open Textbooks bring back the awesomeness of the old coursepack.  Back in the '70's, '80's and early '90's, coursepacks were the pre-internet era's version of the Course Management System.  Instructors would create a packet that included everything a student needed for the semester, without using a textbook. Syllabii, Lecture Outlines, Assignments, and Readings. The readings often included copyrighted materials reprinted under Fair Use as an educational, classroom use until Kinko's lost their lawsuit in 1991. (Wiley, et al vs Kinko's).

Coursepacks were very popular in the '80, and publishers didn't have a market-based answer for the cheap and convenient coursepack. As a result of the decision in the Kinko's lawsuit, copyright permissions handling and fees drove prices up.  The $100+ coursepack appeared in the early '90's. Instructors dropped pricey articles (Note to publishers: this does not mean they bought the textbook instead. Many just stopped using the material altogether.)

Then later Course Management systems like Blackboard and Angel came along and allowed more time sensitive materials to collect there, and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act granted some safe harbors that favor online posting of copyrighted materials for courses vs printing them.  Articles can be linked to campus libraries housing digital collections accessible online, basically replicating the old coursepack model, but without the convenience of having the material pre-printed (Which makes us sad because students learn more when reading from print.) By the end of the '00's, we guess that the number coursepack titles created each semester dropped by 66% over 20 years, yet textbook prices are up 1,000% since 1977.

Today's consistent users of coursepacks are usually instructor-created materials designed for a single course and are hugely popular in large courses for exactly the same reasons Open Textbooks & OER's are getting attention- cheaper, easier to use, and customizable- and some of these instructor's creating their own materials may choose to develop their materials into OER's.

The advantage of Open Textbooks and OER's is that instructors, teachers, and professors anywhere can use the those open materials to build into their own coursepack, merge with their own creations, and customize their teaching materials as needed without any hassles, including having them available in print. No copyright checking, no royalties, just assemble into a PDF, and go. They can be distributed as a pdf online, or printed and sold at the bookstore on campus. (We can do both. Want to have us ship to your bookstore? Ask us about options.)

Print is very important in education.  Now that we know the scientific benefits of reading from print, Open Textbooks & OER's will make it easier to get print back in the classroom, more affordably & conveniently for the student.

Getting more of these copyright free options into courses starts with the instructor reviewing options. (We posted some here.)

Open Textbook's and OER's are bringing back the old coursepack, that's awesome for teachers and students!