U.S. Senate

US Senators seek to make college textbooks affordable and open

Jane Park, November 15th, 2013

A Human Timeline of Open Education
Opensourceway / CC BY-SA

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.

You can read the full text of Bill S.1704 here. In addition to highlighting the rising cost of textbooks, Bill S.1704 defines the following terms:

(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:

You can take action to support Bill S.1704 here and use Twitter hashtag #oerusa to share the news!

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Incentive Bill for 21st Century Skills

Jane Park, June 2nd, 2009

Last month, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate recognized the fact that students learning today need to be taught the necessary skills to succeed in this century—an age of new media, the Internet, and ever evolving technologies. The bill, introduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, would “create a new incentive fund that will encourage States to adopt the 21st Century Skills Framework.” The fund would provide federal matches to those states that integrate the teaching of 21st century skills such as “creativity, innovation, critical thinking and financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy” into core curricula, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

eSchool News reports what Shelley Pasnik, “director of the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology,” has to say:

“The legislation goes beyond technology. It’s about implementing a framework for 21st-century learning,” she said. “It’s more promising this way. If it were just about technology purchases, it would be a missed opportunity.”

We couldn’t agree more. Giving a student a computer won’t teach him or her how to use one, but integrating activities that require the use of one will. More broadly, students will learn the relevant skills to succeed in the current day and future when core curriculum is revamped to include current day and future projects. Revamped curriculum and associated learning materials will also only achieve maximum impact if the resources are open for use and iteration. Opening up the resources makes the federal investment worthwhile, and is helpful for states that are slow in jumping on the bandwagon to catch up. It also gives extra incentive for high quality materials, as competition turns to collaboration between states.

You can read the full text of the proposed bill here.

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