• April 18, 2014

State of Washington to Offer Online Materials as Texts

Money-saving effort at 2-year colleges faces vexing problems

State of Washington to Offer Online Materials (Instead of Textbooks) for 2-Year Colleges 1

Stephen Brashear for The Chronicle

Cable Green, of the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, says students pay $1,000 a year for books, so the savings in switching to online materials were obvious.

Enlarge Image
close State of Washington to Offer Online Materials (Instead of Textbooks) for 2-Year Colleges 1

Stephen Brashear for The Chronicle

Cable Green, of the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, says students pay $1,000 a year for books, so the savings in switching to online materials were obvious.

It's a question that students, and a growing number of their professors, are asking: Why require students to buy expensive textbooks every year, when the Internet is awash in information, much of it free? After all, the words of Plato have not changed in the past 2,000 years, nor has basic algebra.

Washington State's financially strapped Legislature, which foots much of the textbook bill for community-college students on state financial aid, has wondered the same thing. With nearly half a million students taking classes at the state's 34 two-year colleges, why not assemble very inexpensive resources for the most popular classes and allow access to those materials online? And why not cap the cost of those course materials at $30?

Calculating the savings, when students are paying up to $1,000 for books each year, was an exercise in simple math, says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. "We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world," he says. "If we are all teaching the same 81 courses, why not?"

So with a $750,000 matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the board has started an ambitious program to develop low-cost, online instructional materials for its community and technical colleges. For the Open Course Library, as the materials are known, teams of community-college instructors, librarians, and Web designers from around the state are creating ready-to-use digital course modules for the 81 highest-enrolled courses. The first 43 courses, which are as varied as "General Biology" and "Introduction to Literature 1," will be tested in classrooms beginning this month.

The basic design requirements of the Open Course Library are simple enough. The material must be available online and accessible to anyone, says Mr. Green. Faculty designers, hired for their teaching experience and expertise in the subject, can use material from anywhere and anyone, as long as they abide by licensing agreements. Instructors can then use and revise the material as they see fit, dropping and adding components to customize the course for their own students. And now they have peer-vetted syllabi, lecture notes, and teaching materials, available with a few clicks of the mouse.

If the course designers feel that the best instructional materials are online versions of traditional textbooks, that's fine. Or they can use a smorgasbord of teaching modules and exercises developed by other open-learning projects, such as those created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University. Interactive-learning Web sites and even instructional videos on YouTube are also perfectly acceptable resources.

Math Problems

That $30 cap is proving to be daunting.

During a recent meeting of mathematics professors and librarians who are designing the courseware for Washington's algebra, precalculus, and statistics courses, it was clear that no one was completely satisfied with what could be found online. "A lot of things that are open are old," said Melonie D. Rasmussen, who teaches at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, in Lakewood, Wash. "Or they are open and strange. She remembers a 1980s math book posted online that refers to VCR's. It would take more time to explain what a VCR was than the math itself, she joked.

Many course designers thought they would find everything they needed in the open content offered by universities like Carnegie Mellon. Those treasure-troves, developed with grants from several foundations, offer free courses in addition to lecture notes, virtual laboratories, and online "cognitive tutors" that guide students through complex problem-solving exercises. One company, Flat World Knowledge, offers free online textbooks that professors can customize for their own classes. (Flat World makes its money by selling ancillary study guides.)

But instructors in this group were annoyed with the assumption that it's just a matter of plucking ripe fruit off the Internet tree. They said they had been surprised to discover how few open-source sites cater to students who struggle with basic math, which describes many at the community-college level.

Traditional textbook publishers, which now promote e-textbooks, aren't the solution, insisted David Lippman, who teaches math at Pierce College and is a self-confessed open-source purist. "I find the publishers' online offerings nothing more than the old ancillaries they've always offered bundled up in a proprietary system," he said.

For under $30, access to e-textbooks wouldn't get you the entire book, and what you do buy is typically good for only one academic quarter. Printing out a hard copy costs extra. There's also no guarantee that publishers won't raise prices. Mr. Lippman acknowledged that computer-generated math problems and solutions that textbook publishers now offer are popular and helpful, but he noted that they are not free.

Even if course material is free, different licensing rules can make it cumbersome to lift and blend with other work into a seamless text, said Federico Marchetti, of Shoreline Community College. Cutting and pasting also produces a mishmash of styles and teaching approaches, creating confusion. With the amount of editing and rewriting necessary to incorporate various kinds of material into his "Introduction to Statistics" class, he said, "it is actually faster to just write something from scratch."

It's Greek to Some

Online textbooks, even custom produced, aren't an option for Tom Kerns, who is designing the "Introduction to Philosophy" course for the Open Course Library. Philosophy students need to use primary sources, says Mr. Kerns, who has taught online courses for years at North Seattle Community College. And that is where he is stumped. If students could read Plato in ancient Greek and Schopenhauer in German, then it would not be an issue. But the five books he wants to assign are modern translations using current idioms, and they break the $30 bank. The general public buys those books, so mainstream publishers aren't inclined to cut students special deals or offer e-book versions.

"They aren't going to change their pricing policy for me and say, 'Your students can have them for free,'" Mr. Kerns says. "I have not figured out how I am going to avoid having two different courses­—one for people who can afford the books, and another for people who can't. I am flummoxed."

Finding enough material isn't Jennie K. Mayer's problem. Sitting in an office at Bellevue College, with stacks of chemistry books that reach to the ceiling, Ms. Mayer says she and her colleagues are not overly concerned about choosing a text for the "Introduction to Chemistry" course. "A lot of publishers have approached us and have offered e-books for less than $30 a quarter," she says. "They pretty much teach the same thing."

Her concern is that chemistry students at this level need supplemental materials to explain basic science concepts. That means plodding through the dizzying array of information out there. A single instructor, particularly a harried adjunct, is unlikely to have the time to sort through the good and the bad, much less to test experiments that just might blow up the lab. So Ms. Mayer and her chemistry colleagues want to build a course with added material that is as much for the instructor as for the student.

On one day this past November, the team was writing the module on kinetic molecular theory. This is a particular challenge, Ms. Mayer said. Many of their students lack a fundamental understanding of how air pressure works. But she knows just what experiment will make it clear. Ms. Mayer typed "egg in a bottle" into Google. Up popped dozens of links to odd but strangely compelling YouTube videos of amateur and professional scientists' demonstrating how a change in atmospheric pressure can force a hard-boiled egg to squeeze through a narrow-necked glass bottle. That, she said, is something you can't show in a textbook.

Mr. Green, of the state community-college board, says the Open Course Library is very much a work in progress, and may always be. Indeed, its success depends upon the academic community to continually review, revise, and improve the courses, and then post them back online for others. (The idea of freely sharing information, he concedes, might just be the more challenging cultural shift.)

But "getting there" is not in question, says Mr. Green. He says he's been blunt with textbook publishers and has encouraged them to get on board if they can.

"You saw what happened with Craigslist and newspapers," he says, referring to the free classified advertising that has helped force some newspapers out of business and required others to reinvent themselves. "We are going to get there with or without you."


1. fortysomethingprof - January 09, 2011 at 01:32 am

Publishers create new editions every three years, and the new editions often are not improved at all except for a new cover. Long-standing mistakes are not fixed, no new chapter homework problems are added (but sometimes they are scrambled to make it harder to correlate question numbers with an older edition), etc. That gets frustrating after a while.

On the other hand it's important that "course materials" be professionally (and externally) vetted so that the information therein is reliable and thorough. Don't make the mistake of the Virginia Public Schools, whose fourth grade history textbook doesn't even know how many Confederate states there were. Also important to avoid copyright infringement assiduously.

Pretty soon states -- or consortia of states -- are going to find that it makes better economic sense to hire teams of experts to create textbooks that the states would wholly own. The authors would be paid a fee, perhaps $100,000 would be a reasonable fee for a decent calculus textbook? There are a number of subjects (here I'm thinking of math, physics, chemistry, US history, philosophy, english composition, introductory accounting, etc.) where a good text should be useable for 20 years. Even if the author's fee were $250,000 the cost could be recovered quickly with a small flat fee. Think of a state where there are 100,000 students enrolled in various public colleges. Say 25% of them take calculus. You would recover the author's fee in one year in one year with a $10 fee. Meanwhile students would save thousands of dollars on their books. And I think $250,000 is going to get you a pretty darned good book.

2. cablegreen - January 09, 2011 at 03:12 pm

Professor Christopher Gildow is piloting the “ART 100: Introduction” Open Course Library course this quarter. He recently sent this update and gave me permission to share.


From: Christopher Gildow
Subject: OCL feedback

To give you some instant feedback --this morning I started my pilot Open Course Library course (ART 100: Introduction) at Everett Community College to a full class of 37. When I explained the motivation behind it and the reality of the digital content at no cost there was a collective smile and sigh of relief by the students. In particular, one student approached me after class and said how much of a difference it will make for him not having to spend $127.00 on a hard-cover textbook because it affords him the opportunity to attend college.

Great payback for all our work!


3. geoffcain - January 09, 2011 at 03:40 pm

There are some great open text math books being written and released to Creative Commons licensing coming from College of the Redwoods. Anyone can contact me for more information (geoff-cain@redwoods.edu). We have worked with instructors here to combine available materials and the instructors work to create textbooks. There are a number of models available. There are also translations of philosophers in the public domain or that are available to students online. This is an exciting time to get involved! - Geoff Cain

4. philrayjack - January 09, 2011 at 05:00 pm

Asking "Why require students to buy expensive textbooks every year when the internet is awash in information, much of it free?" is an interesting way to start this discussion. First of all, it implies that the cost of textbooks is a major part of the problems our students face when it comes to being able to afford to go to school. It ignores the dramatic increases in tuition that have taken place as legislators shift the burden of paying for schools from the taxpayers to the students. It also ignores the fact that inflation has increased at a much greater rate than earning power, which means our students have to work more hours to cover living expenses. Placing so much emphasis on the cost of textbooks in todays academic world is a little like buying a new umbrella during a hurricane.

Another implication is that, because there is a lot of information available, it all has the same value. Finding good information on the internet is more like panning for gold -- It takes a lot of time and effort to wade through the muck before you find the treasure. As many of the faculty who have been involved in the program have pointed out, it is a lot more time-consuming and frustrating than might be imagined.

Finally, the question, "If we are all teaching the same 81 courses, why not?" is especially disturbing. There is a significant difference between having common standards and objectives, and "teaching the same course." Standards and objectives define our goals, but the approaches we take to achieve those goals are as varied as our students. We start where they are and work to help them get to where they need to be.

On the other hand, faculty have always shared information with one another, and technology has made it easier to do so effectively. In some classes and with some students, having all of the information available online makes sense. Let's just be careful not to sacrifice our ability to adjust to the needs of our students.

And for heaven's sake, let's get away from the "One Size Fits All" mentality that takes a positive idea and twists it into a mandate!

5. jstudent - January 09, 2011 at 07:14 pm

So , I wonder if the state will provide laptops for all those students who don't have Internet access or even a computers at home because they cannot afford one. Or, are there going to be longer library hours for those students who don't have don't have access to the Internet.Are they going to put more computers in the community colleges so more students can use them. Are they going to provide money to students who need to make copies and, what about students with disabilities. All, questions that I would like to know how this is going to be handled.

6. dlippman - January 09, 2011 at 07:32 pm

@philrayjack: Wading through the resources out there is time consuming, which was part of the point of this project - to give faculty time to find the best stuff and collect it. It is good to note also that this is not going to result in mandated curriculum; the results will be made available to faculty as another option to choose from, alongside commercial offerings. The course packages don't mandate the instructor's course choices any more than a commercial textbook does.

@jstudent: I don't think there is any plan to provide laptops, but hopefully with reduced textbook cost (free vs $200 for the course I'm developing), more students may be able to afford a laptop. I know that many faculty involved in the project are thinking about these issues, and are trying to ensure that there are alternatives (printed books, etc) available for students without access to computers. The issues you raise are not unique to this project; as more publishers also put material online and use more multimedia, access to technology will become more important.

7. mrasmuss - January 10, 2011 at 01:32 am

I often find that students, who cannot afford their books, cannot afford a laptop either. I have students who access my online material with their phone, and only use the computers at school. I hope that the majority of the materials created by this project will be available in print version for less than $30. Sadly, some will not. There are many barriers to printed material, even the material created by strong supporters of the open concept. Accessibility is restricted when selling & distributing printed copies of books through the bookstore becomes a logistic nightmare because of copyright laws and profit, even if the profit is miniscule to cover the basics. It may take a while, but I am confident that eventually, we will get it right, without damaging individual instructor style or the wallets of the state and students.

8. kjmcdonald - January 10, 2011 at 07:44 am

Flat World Knowledge, mentioned in this article, is rapidly expanding its offerings of free and affordable texts (all peer reviewed and professionally developed). Addressing some of the courses mentioned in this article, look for offerings this spring in Elementary Algebra, Intro/Prep and GOB Chem as well as additional titles in English, Sociology (brief already published), Psychology and College Success (published) to augment FWK's already strong offerings in Business and Economics. All texts are free online with affordable alternate formats/study aids.

9. nicoleallen - January 10, 2011 at 05:47 pm

What the piece said to me was "open education is reality now." Harsh, in some ways, but the fact that we're talking about these challenges -- which we've been discussing in theory for years -- in the context of an actual project shows that the open education movement is making real progress.

10. rebek56 - January 11, 2011 at 09:14 am

I agree that this model may not work in all disciplines, but I have used a version of it it for years in my composition and some literature courses. I teach at a community college with tuition of roughly $2200 a year, and it is not unusual for the cost of books to come close to that of tuition, a real problem for our predominantly low-income students. My research paper courses use largely free online materials, and public domain materials are available for a number of literature courses. (I do, however, confess to a fondness for the Norton Anthology series, still a great buy as far as I'm concerned.) Yes, the need to update materials takes more of my time than simply selecting a book (and I am one of that vanishing breed, the tenured professor), but students have been appreciative of the cost savings.

While I am uncomfortable with "one-size-fits-all" mandates, I applaud Washington for getting serious about this barrier faced by too many community college students.

11. pedrolorenzomartinez - January 11, 2011 at 09:18 am

We all have to be concerned with making higher education affordable by lowering the cost of our textbooks. When a used Math textbook costs $150, something is not right. We also have to consider the other part of the equation, "some" students no matter how affordable you make the cost,will never buy nor read the textbook. This is the most insidious malady that continues to affect our "learning outcomes". At our university, a few professors made their own textbooks available at the fraction of the cost of the previously required commercial textbooks. Guess what? Even when they were less than $40.00, many students did not buy them. Iam wondering how much they paid for their ITunes?
If you lower the cost, they will read!

12. kmellendorf - January 11, 2011 at 11:51 am

There are many ways to teach a subject, many styles. These are developed to the complement the instructor, the students, the courses that have preceded, and the courses that will follow. If an online text fits a class, this is a good thing. If an instructor can write a text to fit the class, this is a good thing. If a published text fits, this is also good. Full-time instructors manipulate available resources to suit the semester's classes. For this to continue, a range of resources must be available.

13. kmellendorf - January 11, 2011 at 11:56 am

My experience dealing with epilepsy brings to mind the concerns of disability. If my textbooks had been online in college, I would have been limited to studying no more than a half-hour at a time, no more than perhaps two hours per night. As a physics major, this would not have been enough. Most of my first three years was spent studying textbooks. Although online options can be a good thing, it is not enough.

14. garay - January 12, 2011 at 07:46 am

This all reminds me of when we started the University of Illinois Online program, back in 1997 or so :: lots of initial costs issues, vetting content, quality control, bringing everybody up to speed and aligning an endless and disparate number of enabling technologies to make it all seamless and pedagogically effective all aimed to deliver an enhanced teaching and learning technology experience.

Back then, there was no Google, no broadband (we had to require students to pay for 28.8Kbps modem), RealNetworks did not exist and had not introduced streaming technology yet, very few laptops and phones, a multimedia-ready PC that could play audio was expensive, few had cell phones, no Moodle, no Sakai, no Blackboard Mobile Learn, no blogs, no wikis, no Dreamweaver, no Flash, Acrobat was new but we had to spend countless hours helping people install it as a Web browser plug-in on Mosaic or Netscape.

Worse of all, most of our faculty and the Academe at large were not too keen on this new way of learning. More so, given the enormous initial investment in time, money and focused attention that we all had to invest in doing it right. Fortunately, there was Frank Mayadas and the Sloan Foundation, and great catalysts.

The point of going down this memory lane is to hopefully illustrate that novel and somewhat revolutionary Teaching & Learning activities, such as turning to online texts to save money, be green (no pun intended, Cable) and further embrace e-Learning will have its share of growing pains.

There will be plenty of adjustments to make; one size does not fit all, as exemplified by the $30 cap for math textbooks. Btw, how about that desirable access to publisher's interactive workbooks and whatnot? More than $30 worth of inert sheets of paper, those active learning math and physics activities can be key to facilitate learning.

We have a recommended textbook, but we hardly ever reference it, at an online graduate class I co-teach in Health Informatics. For years, I/we have been aggregating and making refinements to our online class materials; not just textbook-like content, but our blogs and student wiki activities, our well-nourished discussion boards, our narrated PowerPoint presentations, our weekly little online tests with instant feedback to students and instructors alike. We use Wimba Voice Tools for Podcasts and ad hoc voice recordings. I use Pronto for virtual office hours and to administer short live audio interviews/quizzing. Last night I posted an iHealthBeat article on our class blog, about Mobile Healthcare Apps Expected to Skyrocket, read it and listen to it again on my iPad and iPhone thanks to Blackboard Mobile Learn.

The year is 2011. Doing this sort of stuff is not difficult anymore. Let's all seize the moment, make the best of going full fledge with online texts, quality online texts, converged with all the ubiquitous learning and comfortable digital continuum lifestyle that I, for one, evangelize about, everyday.

But we must seriously address two key issues, however :: students (everyone, really) need to have ready access to a notebook computer and to broadband Internet access. Some of that down-the-line service needs to be invested now in outfitting the students' digital backpack.

The other issue, of course is technical support, both, instructional technology support for faculty, but also for students. Make sure you factor in plenty of after-hours generic tech and instructional support, say, from 7pm to midnight on Mondays through Thursdays and on Sundays, at least.

Nice article.
I applaud the State of Washington for seeing beyond the trees.

Greetings from Chicago,

15. nyhist - January 12, 2011 at 08:32 am

no one here mentions history courses. History, my field, is not just 'facts' floating out there in the ether (even if they are accurate, as the Va 4th grade texts were not), but instead interpretations developed by historians taking a variety of different approaches to the topics. Google books gives some free access to online versions of such, but of course only in very small doses. I don't see how a history class of any sophistication could be taught using only online materials--although I do use some excellent web sites in my own teaching.

16. 22199179 - January 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

philrayjack -- I work at one of the colleges in the Washington State Community and Technical College system. Just so you know, we do not use a "one size fits all" system. We do however use a common course coding system...so we know if a student took Engl&101 at Everett CC it is the equivalent course at Lake Washington Technical College or Bellevue College or, or, or, or. Just as in one college no two instructors teach the class exactly the same, neither do two colleges within our system. But...we do however have "standards" that must be met...so we know we can say it is the same class.

To help instructors avoid the "one size fits all" world that you seem to think we have the article did mention..."Instructors can then use and revise the material as they see fit, dropping and adding components to customize the course for their own students."

I don't know about your school. But here, I've seen way too many student get their funding put together and have enough to pay for tuition and fees but no money for books. And no matter what we try we just can't find any more money and that is what keeps them from being able to go to school.

Is this system perfect? Heck no! Is it exciting? Heck yes! Do I think it has the potential to help many of my student afford school? Oh, HECK YES!!!!!!!!!!

It is a work in progress, not everything on the internet is golden, but the folks working on this project are doing their best to try to help students. And isn't that worth something?

17. softshellcrab - January 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

I don't like this, because I don't like ebooks. I don't think they are a truly serious learning tool.

Dear gentle readers and co-academics, have you really learned an enormously complex topic online or via ebook, such as Organic Chemistry, advanced engineering classes, quantitative analysis, advanced accounting, advanced biology courses etc.? These are courses where you study your book for hours, making notes in margins, marking in yellow, turning pages back and forth, thoughtful thinking.... I just can't see how this is done sitting upright in front of a little computer screen. Golly, it sounds awful.

If you had to go back and learn organic chemistry or advanced engineering today, would you really think you would learn it as well from an ebook, sitting upright in front of a computer screen, scrolling up and down for hours?

Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know. I do know I would not want a doctor operating on me who did all his or her learning online or from ebooks.

Color me Neanderthal (or to use the modern politically correct spelling/pronunciation, "Neandertal"...)

18. annon1234 - January 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

At least one research study I have read documents that people can not read as quickly when reading on a computer compared to reading print. In reading intensive classes this could be come an issue.

19. sand6432 - January 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I am surprised that Professor Kerns is having such a problem. Many of Schopenhauer's works are available online for free use in higher education in decent English translations: http://www.epistemelinks.com/Main/TextName.aspx?PhilCode=Scho. The same is true for Plato: http://plato-dialogues.org/links.htm. Sure, you'll have to assign Benjamin Jowett's translations from the late 19th century rather than newer ones, but for community college instruction, Jowett's translations should be perfectly adequate. And there is plenty of excellent secondary literature on these and many other philosiophers readily available online, not least the superb Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (where I found the links to these free resources).---Sandy Thatcher

20. chihing - January 12, 2011 at 01:46 pm

CONNECT, a federally funded project,located at UNC-Chapel Hill develops free high quality web-based modules for early childhood faculty to embed into their coursework. These web-based resources focus on working with young children and their families in a variety of learning environments and inclusive settings and are focused on specific research-based practices. The innovation behind these modules is that each module is designed using an evidence-based practice decision framework. And we also developed these modules with the notion that faculty are knowledge mediators who will facilitate the use of the modules to guide learners and help them develop a deeper understanding of the materials. The modules include videos, audios, handouts, and activities (to cater to different levels of learners) and also instructor support such as activity guides, discussion boards, personnel preparation standards, etc.

So far, feedback from faculty from both community colleges and 4-year IHEs indicated that the modules are high quality, relevant and useful to use in a variety of settings. Come check us out:

Chih Ing, Project Coordinator, CONNECT

21. mezzaluna - January 13, 2011 at 04:16 am

I'm a writer and find it interesting that the authorship of textbooks hasn't been discussed here (aside from fortysomethingprof's delightful idea). Most academic texts are the work of multiple authors/editors, which means multiple payments for use, which contributes to the cost of textbooks. Surely it's fair to pay the authors of instructional materials of all kinds? (Not all textbook authors are salaried academics.)

I'm saddened by Cable Green's comments likening the sitution of academic publishers to that of newspapers driven out of business by Craigslist. It may well happen, thanks to the likes of him, but students of the future will be the ones who lose out, when high quality texts are not available at any cost.

22. paievoli - January 13, 2011 at 07:14 am

Sandy -
Are you saying that using a digital text is less cost-prohibitive than using a printed text? I thought we had that discussion?


23. citizenship - January 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Some high schools have been using similar e-texts for awhile.

24. 11272784 - January 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Jstudent asks: "So, I wonder if the state will provide laptops for all those students who don't have Internet access or even a computers at home because they cannot afford one. Or, are there going to be longer library hours for those students who don't have don't have access to the Internet."

He misses the facts that the cost of a laptop and Internet access is much LESS than the normal cost of textbooks for an academic year. If you can afford to go to college, you can afford a laptop and an Internet connection.

He also missed the fact that most of the logistical processes for colleges and universities are now conducted online.

At most institutions, if you have no computing and Internet access, you can't be a student. Disabilities complicate this but really don't change it.

25. open1 - January 13, 2011 at 01:26 pm

A very positive move towards increasing educational access and affordability

26. cablegreen - January 14, 2011 at 12:15 am


27. cablegreen - January 14, 2011 at 11:43 am

@ mezzaluna

What is most important is that we collectively get to high quality, multi-format (digital web, mobile, print-on-demand), accessible, affordable educational instructional materials. Creating and maintaining those materials is expensive, and no one is going to do it for free - nor should they. What I'm suggesting is higher education teaches roughly the same top 100 highest enrolled courses... the same can be said of K-12. As such, there is an historical opportunity to share - using creative commons licensing - the digital courses and textbooks we all need. Yes - we all teach / build courses slightly differently ... and open licensing allows anyone to make changes to fit local needs.

This new environment could be a boon for authors (such as yourself) who write academic instructional materials - including textbooks. If we can collectively agree (a) we have common curricular needs among our highest enrolled courses and (b) we will share what we create with open licensing, then (c) we can collectively divide the list (of highest enrolled courses and textbooks) and share in the up front and ongoing maintenance costs of these educational materials.

Imagine this:

We ("We" = states, systems, countries with common curricular needs) collectively build a matrix that shows, for example, the millions of enrollments in "Psychology 101," and links to all of the "Psychology 101" high quality, multi-format, accessible open textbooks and open courseware.

Where there are gaps in the open courseware / textbook matrix (e.g., we collectively can't find a high quality "Sociology 101" textbook), we will collectively submit a grant for private and/or public funding to create and maintain the needed content and openly license it so anyone can use and modify it freely.

Maybe we collectively need a Sociology 101 textbook (with all of the supplemental materials included). Ohio (or Washington or Texas or Florida) releases an RFP for the creation of a "Sociology 101" textbook. Maybe you win the bid ... maybe Pearson wins the bid. The difference is, the publisher does not own the copyright - the State of Ohio owns the copyright - and chooses to share that textbook with everyone with a CC BY license. Everyone can now use / modify the open textbook, Ohio has saved a bunch of money for its students, so did other states / countries, and the publisher still had an income stream.

This is what we can collectively accomplish if we are willing to let go of old business and IP models and think outside the box.

I care about one thing - helping more people afford and access a quality higher education. If we fail to leverage new technologies, licensing options and networks of partners to accomplish this goal ... we are failing students everywhere.

Who wants to join?

Cable Green

28. davecormier - January 14, 2011 at 04:15 pm


Count me in. As you know i've been a big fan of the work that you've done. Not sure how i can help yet, but i will help.

dave cormier.

29. opencontent - January 14, 2011 at 04:43 pm

Amen! Cable gets it just right. I've expressed similar thoughts as "The First Rule of Government Spending" - http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/757

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.