Fri11282014

Schools

Open textbooks gain ground as economical, educational alternative

With community college enrollments and textbook prices on the rise, a U.S. and Canadian consortium of community colleges has devised a plan to expand a free digital textbook initiative with $1.5 million in funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Efforts by the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative over the next two years could save students millions of dollars by increasing the number of free high-quality textbooks available online as alternatives to expensive printed textbooks sold by publishers. The collaborative also will train community college instructors in how to get the most out of free digital textbooks to meet the learning needs of their students.

"This grant comes at an opportune time,"' said Mike Brandy, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which is leading the collaborative. "It coincides with the growing interest in open educational resources, such as President Obama's proposal to invest $500 million over the next decade in developing free high school and college courses. Open textbooks are moving into the mainstream as financially distressed states such as California look to free digital textbooks to reduce the cost of public education."

The grant from the Hewlett foundation will support a campaign to raise awareness about open textbooks among community college instructors and students and increase the number of free, high-quality digital textbooks available online for community college courses with the highest enrollments.

Funding for the collaborative will expand the work of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER), which includes 94 member colleges across the United States and Canada. Founded in 2007 by the Foothill-De Anza district, the consortium already has peer-reviewed several new open textbooks for use in community college courses and identified more than 250 others for consideration. Open textbooks are freely available for use without restriction and can be downloaded or printed from Web sites and repositories.

"The collaborative will make it much more convenient for faculty to feasibly explore alternatives to expensive textbooks," said Judy Baker, dean of Global Access at Foothill College and founder and director of CCCOER. "Digital content is much more flexible than a printed textbook, so instructors can customize their content using free material on the Internet, instead of having to adjust their instruction to match what a publisher locks into print."

Open textbooks will gain greater acceptance as more faculty become familiar with them through training, and as more of the textbooks are peer reviewed, Baker said. Until those things happen, adoptions of open textbooks will be limited to what she calls "innovators and early adopters."

Such limited use would be a loss, Baker said, because not only do open textbooks save students money, they also can improve the learning experience for both students and faculty.

"Open textbooks let students and faculty bring greater context, timeliness and relevance to their instruction through Internet linking and networking opportunities," she said.

Using Web-based social networks, the collaborative will link community college instructors into a learning community where they can share their knowledge and experiences with creating and using open textbooks for their courses. The collaborative also will solicit authors to write open textbooks and assemble panels of subject-matter experts to review open textbooks for standards of quality, accessibility and cultural relevance.

For more information, visit oerconsortium.org.

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