Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks?

17 Jan

Open-source textbooks are another option in the calculation of the most cost effective option for obtaining needed textbooks. Information Age Education has a lot of information about the “open source” movement:

We are all used to the idea of free public lending libraries. Benjamin Franklin helped to get this idea started in the United States well over 200 years ago. Moreover, the idea of free public schools for all is well accepted.

Thus, it is not too great a leap to have a vision of education and educational materials being made available free to people of all ages throughout the world. Free education could (should) be a birthright for all.

Of course, we have a very long way to go in achieving such a vision. The countries of the world vary considerably in how well they embrace and work to achieve this vision.

The Internet and rapidly improving telecommunications access and facilities throughout the world have brought a new dimension to the idea of universal, free education. A great many people are willing and able to create educationally sound materials and make them available free on the Web. It is within the world’s capabilities to provide a very broad range of free distance education-based curriculum on the Web.

Of course, we have to think more carefully about the meaning of “free.” You know, of course, that someone has to pay to have free public libraries. Similarly, the Internet is not free. However, the Internet is paid for by a very large number of organizations and institutions, so the cost is widely distributed.

In addition, it costs to access the Internet. However, there are many places (such as public libraries, schools, many restaurants, and so on) where this cost is not directly charged to the people using the service. We are seeing a trend toward entire cities providing free WiFi access.

Finally, there is the cost of the devices people use to access the Internet. These have declined in price so that it is now feasible to provide them free to every student. How rapidly this is occurring or will occur varies considerably from country to country. In the United States, the cost of public education (in 2011) is approximately $10,000 per student per year. It does not take a very large stretch of the imagination to believe that two or three percent of this amount might be used to put a mobile computing device in the hands of every student.

The question is whether “free” is really “free.”

Education News is reporting in the article, Teacher-Written Digital Textbooks: A Cheaper Alternative?

Tired of constantly replacing their outdated — and expensive — statistics textbooks, officials in the Anoka Hennepin School District have let their teachers write their own digital textbooks instead, writes Abigail Wood at the Heartlander.

The teachers thought we could do a better job writing our own book that fit our state standards and the needs of our students,” said high school math teacher Michael Engelhaupt, who helped write the digital textbook.

Three teachers were asked to create the book and were paid $10,000 each. The whole project saved a total of about $175,000.

I think the biggest impact [comes with] giving students a book that exactly covers what they need to know,” Engelhaupt said.

Also, the potential for saving school districts tons of money is unbelievable.”Engelhaupt believes that the fact they’re easier to update makes them more adaptable and gives the teachers more of a sense of ownership.

However, Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for Student Public Interest Research Groups, doesn’t believe that the transition from print to digital is happening as fast as it could, despite the advantages.

Digital textbooks are becoming more refined, incorporating better note-taking, application, and interactive tools, yet 75 percent of students, according to a 2010 survey, would rather use print than digital. Maybe believe that’s because digital textbooks can be perceived as boring, but that’s about to change.

Publishers are still making a ton of money on print textbooks, so they are not in a hurry to start undermining that with digital sales,” Allen said.

But they still know that digital is the future and see a lot of potential for it.”Looking to the future, Cornell and Brown universities have recently begun the transition towards making all of their assigned textbooks digital.

The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years.

Ashley Vance writes in the 2010 New York Times article, $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.

Mr. McNealy, the fiery co-founder and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same.

Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,” Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago.

We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

The nonprofit Curriki fits into an ever-expanding list of organizations that seek to bring the blunt force of Internet economics to bear on the education market. Even the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.

Today, we are engaged in a very different dialogue with our customers,” says Wendy Colby, a senior vice president of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “Our customers are asking us to look at different ways to experiment and to look at different value-based pricing models.”

Mr. McNealy had his own encounter with value-based pricing models while running Sun. The company had thrived as a result of its specialized, pricey technology. And then, in what seemed liked a flash, Sun’s business came undone as a wave of cheaper computers and free, open-source software proved good enough to handle many tasks once done by Sun computers.

At first, Sun fought the open-source set, and then it joined the party by making the source code to its most valuable software available to anyone.

Too little, too late. Sun’s sales continued to decline, making it vulnerable to a takeover.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and other top textbook publishers now face their, forgive me, moment in the sun.

Over the last few years, groups nationwide have adopted the open-source mantra of the software world and started financing open-source books. Experts — often retired teachers or groups of teachers — write these books and allow anyone to distribute them in digital, printed or audio formats. Schools can rearrange the contents of the books to suit their needs and requirements.

But progress with these open-source texts has been slow.

Whether the “open source” movement will evolve into the way that textbooks are sourced remains to be seen.


California Open Source Textbook Project

Open-Source Textbooks a Mixed Bag in California

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

6 Responses to “Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks?”


  1. Digital textbooks may or may not be cheaper « drwilda - May 21, 2012

    […] The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years. Ashley Vance writes in the 2010 New York Times article, $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math. Whether the “open source” movement will evolve into the way that textbooks are sourced remains to be seen.… […]

  2. Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts? « drwilda - August 12, 2012

    […] The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years.… […]

  3. Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts? « drwilda - August 12, 2012

    […] The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years.… […]

  4. A textbook ain’t what it used to be « drwilda - February 4, 2013

    […] Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks?                                                  […]

  5. Ryerson University Study: Some students are resisting to switch to e-texts | drwilda - February 25, 2013

    […] Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks?                                                     […]

  6. Why textbooks cost so much | drwilda - August 19, 2014

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