Books /John Liu / CC BY
A report issued by the United States Government Accountability Office on June 6th confirms a trend of the educational publishing industry: textbook costs to students at higher education institutions are rising 6% per year on average, and have risen 82% over the last decade. The study, ordered by Congress, looks at the efforts of publishers and colleges to increase the availability of textbook price information and “unbundled” buying options as required under provisions in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA). The GAO also interviewed faculty regarding benefits of this transparency and offering of new options for students purchasing course materials.
What they found
Findings of the study indicated that faculty are more aware of textbook affordability issues than they used to be, though they see the appropriateness of materials as the most important factor when it comes to choosing resources to use in a course. HEOA requires publishers to include information about textbook prices when marketing to faculty, including wholesale prices and copyright dates of previous versions. While the report finds that publishers have passively made this information available through their websites and other materials, the GAO did not investigate whether publishers are actively providing the information to faculty as required by law. Making this information not only available, but highly visible, is the best way to support and equip faculty to consider textbook costs and potentially explore more affordable and flexible textbook options.
The study also finds that textbook price transparency helped students save money, particularly because of the information colleges and universities posted in course catalogs. Of the 150 institutions the GAO reviewed, 81 percent provided textbook information online during the months leading up to the fall 2012 semester. This allowed students the opportunity to consider the costs associated with each course and the time to seek cost-cutting alternatives like used books and renting. But even with this relief, textbook prices continue to reach into the $200-and-more range for high-enrollment courses. The end goal of the HEOA price transparency provisions is to pressure publishers into lowering their prices for good.
What this means
As Nicole Allen, Affordable Textbooks Advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs) explained, “Overall, the report shows that the HEOA requirements have helped students and professors become more aware of textbook costs, and this awareness builds market pressure that will eventually lead to fairer prices and more affordable alternatives. Although right now publishers stubbornly continue driving prices skyward, they can only ignore the call for affordability for so long.”
The report mentions other textbook affordability efforts that colleges and universities explored alongside providing textbook price information. About two-thirds of the schools that the GAO interviewed offered an institutional rental program, and many offered price information for alternate formats, such as e-textbooks. For example, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges’ Open Course Library, which offers Open Educational Resources (OER) and other low cost materials for the system’s 81 largest courses, has saved students $5.5 million to date — about three times as much as the program cost. As the shift of resources towards efforts that provide more options to students and faculty is seen across the US and in other areas around the world, we anticipate more participation in communities around OER. Which is a great thing.
Next steps towards affordable textbooks
The HEOA requirements for textbook price transparency were a good first step, but there’s more work to do to solve rising textbook costs and lack of flexibility in choosing learning materials for courses. OER, like those created, revised, and shared in the Open Course Library have the potential to significantly offset these costs while at the same time providing more options for faculty and students to customize textbooks and other courseware to their needs. CC believes that OER is the next step in providing affordable, flexible, and truly open educational opportunities for students and faculty, allowing global citizens to better choose their own learning pathways.
opensourceway / CC BY-SA
A joint statement issued by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on June 7th affirms the potential for OER as a solution: “As the GAO report suggests, transparency alone isn’t enough. Students need more access to high-quality, affordable options that challenge the current price structure set by a handful of publishers. Open Educational Resources, which include high-quality open textbooks that are free for faculty to adopt and students to use, offer a promising step forward. With many recent technology advancements it will be important for Congress to continue to learn more about the textbook sector to ensure that there are accountability mechanisms in place to protect students and taxpayers.”1 Comment »
A year and a half ago, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) released the first 42 of Washington state’s 81 high-enrollment courses under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY). Now they have released the remaining 39 under the same terms, which means that anyone, anywhere, including the state’s 34 public community and technical colleges and four-year colleges and universities, can use, customize, and distribute the course materials.
The Open Course Library project is funded by the Washington State Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It adheres to SBCTC’s open policy, which requires that all materials created through system grants be openly licensed for the public to freely use, adapt, and distribute under CC BY.
For further background on the project, read our 2010 feature about the project when it was just beginning. All 81 courses are available at the recently redesigned Open Course Library website where each individual course is marked with the CC BY license to enable discovery through Google and other search services on the web.
The SBCTC held a press call today bringing to light a new Cost Analysis report on savings for students where Open Course Library courses have been used in lieu of traditional course materials. For more info, please see:
- Affordable Textbooks For Washington Students: An Updated Cost Analysis of the Open Course Library – Among other findings, “The Open Course Library has saved students $5.5 million in textbook costs to date, including $2.9 million during the 2012-2013 academic year alone.”
- Official SBCTC press release announcing Phase 2 courses (pdf)
- Audio of the Open Course Library media conference call with Q&A (mp3)
On April 8 & 9, 2013 BCcampus hosted, and Creative Commons facilitated, an Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver British Columbia Canada. The Open Textbook Summit brought together government representatives, student groups, and open textbook developers in an effort to coordinate and leverage open textbook initiatives.
BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology (AEIT)
Alberta Enterprise & Advanced Education
The 20 Million Minds Foundation
Washington Open Course Library
University of Minnesota Open Textbook Catalogue
Open Courseware Consortium
Student Public Interest Research Groups
Right to Research Coalition
Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA)
California and British Columbia recently announced initiatives to create open textbooks for high enrollment courses. Susan Brown in her welcoming remarks on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology noted the Open Textbook Summit was “a unique opportunity to share information about the work underway in our respective jurisdictions and organizations to capitalize on lessons learned; to identify common areas of interest; and to discover potential opportunities for collaboration. The real power of a project like this is only realized by working together.”
On the summit’s first day the BC government announced it was “Moving to the next chapter on free online textbooks” releasing a list of the 40 most highly enrolled first and second-year subject areas in the provincial post-secondary system.
Over the course of the summit participants identified existing open textbooks that could be used for BC’s high enrollment courses. Development plans for creating additional open textbooks were mapped out. Strategies for academic use of open textbooks were discussed ranging from open textbooks for high enrollment courses to zero textbook degree programs where every course in a credential has an open textbook.
Open textbook developers described the tools they are using for authoring, editing, remixing, repository storage, access, and distribution. Participants discussed the potential for creating synergy between initiatives through use of common tools and processes.
Measures of success, including saving students money and improved learning outcomes, were shared and potential for a joint open textbook research agenda explored. The summit concluded with suggestions from all participants on ways to collaborate going forward. David Porters recommendation of an ongoing Open Textbook Federation was enthusiastically endorsed.
Mary Burgess created a Google group called The Open Textbook Federation for further conversations and collaborations. This group is open to anyone currently working on, or thinking of working on, an Open Textbook Project. Notes from the Open Textbook Summit are posted online. Clint Lalonde created a Storify of the Twitter conversation captured during the summit.
The Open Textbook Summit was an incredible day and a half of learning. The sharing of insights, experiences, hopes, and ideas left everyone energized with a commitment to join together in a cross-border federation that collaborates on open textbooks.2 Comments »
The OERu aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognized education institutions.
Like MOOCs, the OERu will have free open enrollment. But OERu’s open practices go well beyond open enrollment.
The OERu uses an open peer review model inviting open public input and feedback on courses and programs as they are being designed. At the beginning of 2013, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority approved a new Graduate Diploma in Tertiary Education to be developed as OER and offered as part of OERu offerings. OERu recently published the design blueprint and requested public input and feedback for the Open Education Practice elective, one of a number of blueprints for OERu courses.
OERu course materials are licensed using Creative Commons licenses (CC-BY or CC-BY-SA) and based solely on OER (including open textbooks). In addition, OERu course materials are designed and developed using open file formats (easy to revise, remix, and redistribute) and delivered using open-source software.
The OERu network offers assessment and credentialing services through its partner educational institutions on a cost-recovery basis. Through the community service mission of OERu participating institutions, OER learners have open pathways to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.
Open peer review, open public input, open educational resources, open textbooks, open file formats, open source software, open enrollments – the OERu is distinctively open.
Congratulations to the OERu on its second anniversary and its upcoming international launch in November.1 Comment »
Department of State Seal / Public Domain
Earlier today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the Open Book Project (remarks, project page, press notice), an initiative to expand access to free, high-quality educational materials in Arabic, with a particular focus on science and technology. These resources will be released under open licenses that allow their free use, sharing, and adaptation to local context.
The initiative will:
- Support the creation of Arabic-language Open Educational Resources (OER) and the translation of existing OER into Arabic.
- Disseminate the resources free of charge through project partners and their platforms.
- Offer training and support to governments, educators, and students to put existing OER to use and develop their own.
- Raise awareness of the potential of OER and promote uptake of online learning materials.
Creative Commons is proud to be a part of the Open Book Project, partnering with the Department of State; the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization; and our open colleagues around the world. CC licenses are core to OER, providing the world’s teachers and students the rights needed to legally reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute educational resources. When education content is CC licensed, it may be legally translated into (or from) Arabic and any other language. Using CC licenses provides an unprecedented opportunity to ensure OER are able to bridge cultures and fill educational gaps that exist on a global, regional, and local level.
In Clinton’s words, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. It’s incumbent upon all of us to keep opening doors of opportunity, because walking through it may be a young man or young woman who becomes a medical researcher and discovers a cure for a terrible disease, becomes an entrepreneur, or becomes a professor who then creates the next generation of those who contribute.”
When digital learning resources can be openly licensed and shared for the marginal cost of $0, many educators believe we collectively have an ethical and moral obligation to do so. Congratulations to all of the partners who will work together to help more people access high quality, affordable educational resources.
Update (Jan 29): The full text of Secretary Clinton’s speech is now available.9 Comments »
Boundless, the company that builds on existing open educational resources to provide free alternatives to traditionally costly college textbooks, has released 18 open textbooks under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA), the same license used by Wikipedia. Schools, students and the general public are free to share and remix these textbooks under this license. The 18 textbooks cover timeless college subjects, such as accounting, biology, chemistry, sociology, and economics. Boundless reports that students at more than half of US colleges have used its resources, and that they expect its number of users to grow.
Boundless has an entire section explaining open educational resources (OER) and how they use them. However, you can easily see how it works for yourself by browsing one of their textbooks directly. For example, see their textbook on Biology. At the end of each chapter, sources are cited as a list of links where you can find the original material:
This chapter on Organismal Interactions references a Wikipedia article and several articles in The Encyclopedia of Earth. If you follow these links, you will find that the original articles are OER governed by the same CC BY-SA license.
From Boundless’ FAQ,
Is it really free? How does Boundless make money?
Absolutely. Boundless books are 100% free with no expiration dates like textbook rentals or buybacks at the bookstore. It starts with Open Educational Resources. In the future, Boundless will implement some awesome optional premium features on top of this free content to help students study faster and smarter.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Boundless is already rolling out some of those premium features, including flashcards, study guides, and quizzes. To access these features Boundless requires a free user account. The textbooks themselves are completely open, without registration required, and are accessible at boundless.com/textbooks/.
For further reading, we recommend Slate’s article entitled, “Never Pay Sticker Price for a Textbook Again – The open educational resources movement that’s terrifying publishers.” It does a fantastic job of placing the company’s aims in the context of the current publishing ecosystem.3 Comments »
One Thursday a few weeks ago, just as most of us at Creative Commons were on our way home for the evening, we saw this startling tweet:
@creativecommons You need to know: ~30 maths enthusiasts begin a CC-BY course book hackathon in five hours in Helsinki, Finland.
— Joonas Mäkinen (@JoonasD6) September 28, 2012
Of course we had to learn more. I contacted Joonas Mäkinen to get more information, and he explained to me that he’d helped organize a team to write a secondary school mathematics textbook over a weekend, in an event called Oppikirjamaraton (“textbook marathon”). The book was to be licensed CC BY, so that anyone could reuse or remix it in Finland or around the world.
The text — now in version .91 in GitHub — is called Vapaa Matikka. The title translates as “Free Math,” but since matikka can also mean “burbot,” the book’s title also reads as “free fish” and its slogan — Matikka verkosta vapauteen — could be either a rallying cry to keep educational resources free and open or an instruction to free a fish from a net.
But I was interested in more than math puns. I wanted to find out how the book sprint had gone, what the team was planning to do with the textbook, and what advice he had for others organizing similar events. This interview was conducted by email between October 2 and 5.
What range of math concepts does the book cover?
It is a text book for the first advanced level mathematics course in Finnish upper secondary (high) schools. Although people who just start the course have usually just finished their mandatory primary school studies, we decided to take quite a “for dummies” approach and try to minimize all the prerequisites.
We introduce rational numbers, go through the arithmetic of them and real numbers in general. Power rules and roots follow and lead to the very basics of equation solving and the concept of a function. The most important applications of all this are proportionality and percentage calculations. Even with the freedom of writing we had we were tied to the current curriculum.
Tell me more about the curriculum requirements. Are they the same throughout Finland?
There is one national curriculum and everyone follows it. The only standardized tests you get are your finals, or matriculation examinations as they are known here, so some book series approach topics in a slightly different order than others. There is some flexibility and writing a course book based on the curriculum was easy.
Doesn’t change the fact that the curriculum sucks, though. The first reaction from a lot of participants was: “Can we write a new curriculum first?” And I understand them. We don’t have wars over content as I’ve understood you have in the USA, though. It’s more about how certain topics are grouped together in courses.
In the case of advanced level mathematics, there are 10 national, mandatory courses that consist of approximately 18 75-minute lessons. Plus a few optional courses, plus a lot more if you’re in a science- or math-focused school. An example of a highly non-mathematical, non-systematic grouping would be for example a course which is supposed to cover sequences and trigonometric functions. These two have nothing in common at this level. They could if series expansions and complex numbers were taught earlier, but nooooo…
What was the breakdown of participants? Was everyone involved an educator? Did participants have prior experience writing or editing textbooks?
There were over 20 people who partook in writing that weekend. We had regular upper secondary teachers, university students (mathematics and computer science), a teacher of automotive electronics, my own private students, and even a couple of university professors working both locally and remotely. We had our own inner circle of enthusiastic grammar nazis, too, to help us actually write grammatically and typographically better materials than you see in some books by big publishers. The diversity of people involved turned out to be a great resource for producing a variety of problems and perspectives.
A few people had experience writing and publishing a “normal,” old-fashioned commercial book, but that experience didn’t seem to divide people into groups at all when we actually started working.
How did you organize yourselves? Were people’s roles in the project determined before the weekend began?
Vesa Linja-aho, who got the idea of this booksprint/hackathon in the first place, was our de facto PR and bureaucracy guy. Lauri Hellsten promised to take the main role in creating much-needed graphics at the set. Other than them, no writer was predestined any specific work. Surely quite a few people had their own topics they really, really wanted to write about, but all in all the whole writing process was very spontaneous and dynamic.
— Joonas Mäkinen (@JoonasD6) September 30, 2012
How much preparation happened ahead of time? Did you enter the weekend with an outline of the book? Schedules?
After realizing that this could be a big thing we just sort of waited for our friends and friends’ friends to fill out a Doodle poll about which weekend we should pick. I planned a table of contents beforehand to have something as a starting point, but it was modified very heavily during Friday and Saturday. Juhapekka Tolvanen made us some LaTeX layout templates beforehand, and we also had one planning meeting but that was not really about content but more about technology: which version management systems we should use, etc. Most of the planning in general was just about getting potential sponsors, writing a press release, checking where we can actually do the writing work, did we have enough laptops, and so on.
One funny copyright anecdote: we had gathered up pretty much all available, related text books. You know, to check how others have explained this and that. Another reason was that in mathematics education (and obviously in other subjects too) there are usually many “pathological” examples and exercises that it’s good for everyone to go though, so you keep running into and using the same tasks again and again. Vesa Linja-aho had received a written decision earlier from the local copyright council that exercises do not constitute works and thus are not copyrightable. Nevertheless, a teacher who had written one of the books we had with us commented and reminded us on our Facebook page that it’s not right to copy others’ work. We got some good laughs out of that.
What did you learn from the experience? What was more difficult than you expected? What advice would you give others planning a similar sprint?
Get the tech side done before you start, and that will save everybody’s nerves and time for the actual writing! We used LaTeX to write and typeset the whole book and Github to handle versions, but hassling with both caused a lot of delays during the first two days. Most people were not familiar with Git and version conflicts and other funnies took maybe a half of our time. Just think what we could have achieved if everyone had had their laptops completely ready…
Some guys were still debating if we should add this and that during Saturday and Sunday, and that was something people should try to avoid. In sprints like this, it’s always the best to just keep writing more content – it’s always easier to comment out or edit something later on. Some arguments got pretty heated a couple of times, but that might also be the lack of sleep talking. Keep it cool and remember to have fun!
What’s next? Is there a revision or review period planned? Are there educators planning to teach from it?
The immediate physiological response after finishing the marathon on Sunday was euphoria. Everyone agreed immediately to organize another sprint. The technical delays and lack of graphics artists made sure that our book didn’t reach the level of ready that we’d just send it to printing immediately, but it’s alive now: people keep sending “bug reports” over Github and all participants have continued to make improvements: fixing typos, adding exercises, fixing inconsistencies…
Our book is now version 0.9, and we’ll wait a couple of weeks till we say it’s appropriately ready for translations and focused printing. Though, we’ve already been hearing that the book has been used as a handbook by a couple of teachers, some have been giving their students exercises from the book and so forth. And of course I and other writers have used it as a resource, too, when teaching our own students. After some polishing we’re pretty sure it’ll be used in plenty of places. Another kick in popularity will come when we continue with the rest of the courses (since schools don’t like to switch book series between courses).
The project was so fun and well-received that we’ll have our next sprint on the second course soon!1 Comment »
Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap’s announcement at #opened12 / Giulia Forsythe / CC BY-NC-SA
The government of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, has announced its support for the creation of open textbooks for the 40 most popular first- and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The texts will be available for free online, or at a low cost for printed versions, to approximately 200,000 students. The first texts under this project could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013 for courses in arts, sciences, humanities, and business.
BCcampus, a publicly funded collaborative information technology organization serving the higher-education system, will engage B.C. faculty, institutions, and publishers to implement the open textbook project through an open request for proposals.
David Porter, executive director for BCcampus, explained why CC licenses are crucial to this project. “Open licenses are integral to making textbooks free for students, and flexible enough for instructors to customize the material to suit their courses.”
B.C.’s minister of advanced education, John Yap, announced the project at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver. He said students could save up to $1,000 a year on textbooks if free, open versions were available for many of their courses, and he challenged other jurisdictions to follow British Columbia’s lead and support open educational resources: “By taking advantage of technology, more people can get the learning they need in the knowledge economy and access to new or better jobs.”
You might remember that a few weeks ago, we celebrated a similar piece of legislation in California. The British Columbia legislation was actually based on California’s version. Taken together, these are exciting steps for the OER (open educational resources) movement. Since the textbooks produced in B.C. and California will be licensed under the CC BY license, their impact has the potential to spread far beyond the US and Canada, being reused and adapted by educators around the world.
B.C. is leveraging 21st-century technologies and licensing to ensure that its citizens have affordable access to high-quality post-secondary textbooks. Open licensing on publicly funded content ensures the greatest impact for the public dollar.7 Comments »
It’s official. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that will provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges. The legislation was introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and passed by the California Senate and Assembly in late August.
A crucial component of the California legislation is that the textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY):
The textbooks and other materials are placed under a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.
The CC BY license allows teachers to tailor textbook content to students’ needs, permits commercial companies to take the resources and build new products with it (such as video tutorials), and opens the doors for collaboration and improvement of the materials.
Access to affordable textbooks is extremely important for students, as textbook costs continue to rise at four times the rate of inflation, sometimes surpassing the cost of tuition at some community colleges. So, in addition to making the digital textbooks available to students free of cost, the legislation requires that print copies of textbooks will cost about $20.
This is a massive win for California, and a most welcome example of open policy that aims to leverage open licensing to save money for California families and support the needs of teachers and students. We’ll continue to track this initiative and other Open Education Policies at our OER registry.25 Comments »
The Saylor Foundation provides global grants of US $20,000 to college textbook authors seeking to openly license their educational textbooks for use in free Saylor college-level courses. Authors maintain their copyright and license textbooks to the world via Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) to enable maximum reuse, remix, and redistribution. To learn more and apply, visit Saylor’s Open Textbook Challenge page for more details.
In addition to providing grants for existing textbooks, the Saylor Foundation has announced a new option to award authors seeking to create open textbooks that will be CC BY licensed. Academics who are interested in creating a textbook can submit a brief statement about the proposed text and the relevant eligible Saylor course, and if successful they will receive a Request for Proposal from the Saylor Foundation (more details at the Open Textbook Development page). As a result of this new option and because preparing new texts is a lengthy process, the Saylor Foundation has decided to accept both textbook submissions and proposals for textbook development on an ongoing basis. The initiative has recently received funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Saylor Foundation expects to award millions of dollars for open textbooks under CC BY.
The cost of education is spiraling, for example the average amount that a U.S. college student spends on textbooks is almost US $1,200 per year. Textbook costs may represent up to seventy-five percent of a Californian community college education, and education affordability is frequently cited as a reason for course dropouts (pdf). The Saylor Foundation tackles this issue by providing free, college-level curricula worldwide via Saylor.org. Their Open Textbook Challenge aims to alleviate cost pressures by encouraging textbook authors to openly license their textbooks with CC BY so that students may use them for free.3 Comments »