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!

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