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Open textbooks: an alternative to hefty textbook prices

It’s no secret that the prices of college course textbooks have significantly risen in the past few years. This change has left some students to choose between buying certain textbooks or not buying any at all, the latter in which they turn to alternatives such as PDFs, or borrowing textbooks from the school library or classmates. Some professors have noted the hefty price of textbooks and have begun assigning open-source textbooks, which are course materials that are offered for free online by their authors under a nonrestrictive license.

“The degree of unaffordability is getting to the point that it’s hurting learning,” said David Wiley, co-founder of Lumen Learning, an organization which helps schools adopt open educational researchers. A 2014 study by the Student Public Interest Research Groups found that textbook costs are deterring students from purchasing course materials and are therefore impacting their studies.

Not only do open textbooks help students save money on school materials, but they also enable students to study on the go. Furthermore, despite criticisms that open-textbooks and easy online access to information may prevent students from attending class, professors have found that these open educational resources have actually improved their classes; they found that it places a premium on classroom interactions and forces students and educators to make better use of their time together in the classroom.

While not all schools have adopted open textbooks and online educational resources, several are catching on as tuition fees rise. Given that open textbooks are a fairly recent practice, educators are still evaluating it before fully adopting the resources. Ben Benderson, the executive director of University of Maryland’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, noted, “As we develop a better understanding of what makes nonpaid resources work well, then we can start to encourage it more and more.”

Want to learn more about open textbooks? Check out the original article “How some colleges are offering free textbooks” by CNN, or follow the report by The Student Public Interest Research Groups. Have you ever used open textbooks in class or elsewhere? Let us know about your experiences!