Free open-source textbooks might be the answer

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Aaron Ellis, Multimedia Specialist Supervisor for Alamo CollegesGuest viewpoint by Aaron S. Ellis

Maybe you’ve noticed that textbooks have been in the news lately. The Ranger recently reported on the Alamo College’s proposed “one textbook” policy. Reporters from U.S. News and World Report, the Huffington Post, and CNBC have been writing, blogging and talking about textbooks, too.

Why are textbooks becoming such a hot topic?

According to the U.S, Government Accountability Office, prices for new textbooks have risen 82 percent in the last 10 years, that’s almost three times the rate of inflation for the same period.

Most of us would balk at such a price increase in other products, but for some reason, we accept it in education.

We’ve been living with this depressing trend for a while, so why are we seeing movement now?

Late last year, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, introduced a bill to Congress that calls for the establishment of a grant program to fund colleges and universities to create free, high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks and other open educational resources.

Yes, that’s right. Free textbook.

From my office in Moody Learning Center, I hear about the textbook problem at the beginning of each semester.

Students talk about it while they wait for their classes to start. They’re overwhelmed by the cost of instructional materials.

For them, the Affordable College Textbook Act (SB1704/HR 3538) could lower one of the not-so-hidden costs of higher education and increase the likelihood of completion.

But while we’re waiting for Congress to ease that burden, OpenSTAX College, SPARC and other non-profit organizations are already offering free, open-source college textbooks under a very permissive Creative Commons license.

OpenSTAX College is one of the better funded and staffed of the OER initiatives.

It’s received donations and support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rice University and others.

OpenSTAX College textbooks have been peer-developed and peer-reviewed by college and university faculty from the U.S. and around the world.

OpenSTAX College has released 13 textbooks covering physics, anatomy and physiology, micro-economics and more.

More than 100 institutions of higher learning have adopted OpenSTAX textbooks, including the University of Texas, Duke University and our very own Palo Alto College.

The Alamo Colleges provide educational services for more than 60,000 students each year among five colleges and several satellite locations.

Open educational resources and free textbooks might be that change.

Aaron S. Ellis is a multimedia specialist with STEM.


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