The U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a report this week called, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives.” The report features responses to a survey administered to over 2,000 students across 163 college campuses in the U.S. in regards to the rising cost of textbooks and how it affects student usage and academic performance. The report has been making the rounds in major news outlets and is highlighted in a letter to Congress by Senators Durbin and Franken as a push for the Affordable College Textbook Act. It is available for anyone to read online under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, but here are the tl;dr highlights:
What the survey results say
- 65% of students choose not to buy a college textbook because it’s too expensive
- 94% report that they suffer academically because of this choice
- 48% say they altered which classes they took based on textbook costs, either taking fewer classes or different classes
- Senator Durbin wholeheartedly agrees: “According to the students surveyed in this report, the rising cost of textbooks not only adds to the overall financial burden of attending college, it can also have a measurably negative impact on their academic performance and student outcomes.”
- 82% of students say they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional!
- Case studies at both Houston Community College and Virginia State University suggest that classes using open textbooks have higher grades and better course completion rates
Textbook industry facts
(as reported by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs)
- College textbook prices have increased by 82% in the past ten years, aka 3x the rate of inflation
- Though alternatives to the new print edition textbooks exist, the costs of these alternatives (such as rental programs, used book markets and e-textbooks) are still dictated by publishers who re-issue editions every few years
- Ethan Sendack at U.S. PIRG says: “[Students] can’t shop around and find the most affordable option, meaning there’s no consumer control on the market.”
- On average students spend $1,200 a year on textbooks which = 14% of tuition at a four-year, public college; 39% of tuition at community college
Open textbook facts
- Open textbooks are written by faculty and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks
- Open textbooks are free to access, use, download to electronic devices, and affordable to print — all thanks to the open content licenses on them that legally allows these uses
- U.S. PIRG estimates that open textbooks could save each student ~$100 per course they take
Find out for yourself
Links to the press release, full report, and news coverage below.
- Press release: http://uspirg.org/news/usp/survey-shows-students-opting-out-buying-high-cost-textbooks
- Full report: http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/fixing-broken-textbook-market
- SPARC’s blog post: http://www.sparc.arl.org/blog/survey-says-textbook-costs-threat-student-success
- US News & World Report: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/01/28/report-high-textbook-prices-have-college-students-struggling
- NBC Today show: http://www.today.com/money/college-textbook-costs-more-outrageous-ever-2D11999533
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/open-textbooks-could-help-students-financially-and-academically-researchers-say/49839
What you can do
Support the Affordable College Textbook Act which would establish open textbook pilot programs at colleges and universities across the country! Learn more at http://www.sparc.arl.org/advocacy/national/act and read Senators Durbin and Franken’s Dear Colleague letter to Congress at http://www.sparc.arl.org/sites/default/files/S.%201704%20Dear%20Colleague.pdf.3 Comments »
United States Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota have introduced legislation called the Affordable College Textbook Act that seeks to make college textbooks affordable and openly available under the Creative Commons Attribution license. According to Durbin’s press release, Bill S.1704 does 5 things:
- Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
- Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public [via CC BY];
- Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
- Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
- Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.
(3) OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE.—The term ‘‘open educational resource’’ means an educational resource that is licensed under an open license and made freely available online to the public.
(4) OPEN LICENSE.—The term ‘‘open license’’ means a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable copyright license granting the public permission to access, reproduce, publicly perform, publicly display, adapt, distribute, and otherwise use the work and adaptations of the work for any purpose, conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given to authors as designated.
(5) OPEN TEXTBOOK.—The term ‘‘open textbook’’ means an open educational resource or set of open educational resources that either is a textbook or can be used in place of a textbook for a postsecondary course at an institution of higher education.
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) note several existing open textbook programs that have proved successful in lowering costs for students, including the University of Minnesota’s online catalog of open textbooks which has so far saved students $100,000; Tidewater Community College’s degree program where each course uses open textbooks lowering costs to zero for students; and Washington State’s Open Course Library project for its 81 largest enrollment courses that has saved students $5.4 million to date.
In addition to cost savings, SPARC highlights Bill S.1704’s potential impacts of high quality and innovation:
- High quality materials. Open educational resources developed through the grants will also be available for all other colleges, faculty and students across the country to freely use.
- Supporting innovation. At a time where new models to support open educational resources are rapidly emerging, this bill would help foster innovation and development of best practices that can be shared with other institutions.
For more info, see:
- Senator Durbin’s press release
- SPARC’s press release, web page to take action, and page about the bill
- Summary and current status of Bill S.1704; complete text of bill
You can take action to support Bill S.1704 here and use Twitter hashtag #oerusa to share the news!Comments Off
As the open educational resources (OER) movement continues to grow, students and educators alike can benefit from openly licensed content. The use of Creative Commons licenses in education has allowed learning resources to travel farther, reach more people, and be repurposed to meet local needs.
I recently spoke with Ariel Diaz, CEO of Boundless learning about how his company utilizes Creative Commons CC licenses. This is a summary of our conversation.
So how does Boundless use Creative Commons licenses?
“Creating high quality textbooks is no easy task. It would have been impossible for Boundless to create close to 20 subjects worth of open textbooks without the availability of openly licensed content. While we can also use information that is in the public domain, the license on the content we predominantly use is called Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA). CC BY-SA allows us to tweak and build upon the work of others, even for commercial purposes, and we are required to license our derivative works under the same license terms. To maintain a connection to the original author, we give attribution/credit and mark our content with the same license.
“To create our open textbooks and study tools, our team of expert “Edcurators” find the best content that is openly licensed. They revise and remix the best parts of the best content so that it is aligned with the key concepts of a corresponding traditional textbook for subjects like Marketing, Chemistry, and Writing. In other words, we take openly licensed content and add our own layer of pedagogy (important because our audience is students) and copy editing (important because students deserve to have materials written in a consistent voice that is fit for their grade level). Once the curating process is finished, we’ve officially crafted a resource that helps students at over half the colleges in the U.S. excel. Our educational content is openly available to all students anywhere in the world.”
Why are Creative Commons licenses important to Boundless?
“Creative Commons has revolutionized the process of sharing information. Open resources available under a CC license broadens the distribution of knowledge, allowing people of different ages, socioeconomic statuses, and geographic locations to share and benefit from high quality content. It’s amazing to be part of this revolution.
“In addition to helping us find, curate, and remix high-quality educational content, the CC license helps us stand up for an important belief core to our mission: educational resources should be free and openly licensed.
“We make good on this belief by freely posting our open textbooks on the web, without any registration required. Any student, educator, or self-learner can access, quote, and remix our textbooks for their own purposes thanks to the CC BY-SA license. Openly licensed educational resources means that digital textbooks like ours will continue to improve over time, allowing students the chance to unlock the knowledge they deserve.”
Where can I access Boundless textbooks?
“In addition to the web, Boundless is has released these books for free in one of the world’s most popular ebook stores: the iBookstore (with Kindle support coming soon). The company’s iBooks include titles like Boundless Introduction to Marketing, Introduction to Statistics, and Introduction to Writing. Students can now access Boundless’ high-quality, college-level content online, offline, on any device, at anytime. The Boundless App is available for free from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch.”2 Comments »
OpenStax College, an initiative of Connexions, the open educational resources (OER) authoring project at Rice University, is creating high-quality, peer-reviewed open textbooks. All of OpenStax College’s books, including the art and illustrations, are available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), allowing anyone to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the books.
The first two OpenStax College books were published in June of 2012, and since then Introduction to Sociology and College Physics have been downloaded over 110,000 times, used by more than 1.5 million unique online learners, and adopted at over 200 schools. These adoptions represent real savings for over 30,000 students in classes around the world. OpenStax College estimates that it has saved these students more than $3 million (USD) so far.
OpenStax isn’t stopping there. Biology and its corresponding book for non-majors, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy & Physiology have now been released and are ready for use in classes in the fourth quarter of 2013.
OpenStax College recently received grants to complete six more books from several major foundations, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Kanzanjian Foundation and Lowenstein Foundation. The next phase will feature Introduction to Statistics, Pre-Calculus, Principles of Economics, U.S. History, Psychology, and Chemistry. These books are entering production now and are scheduled to be released by the end of 2014.1 Comment »
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.”6 Comments »
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.10 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 »