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Open source textbook movement: Why hasn't it caught on?

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Oct 17, 2005
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After reading the Chromebooks in education thread, I was wondering about open source textbooks. I remembered hearing about them a few years ago, and how you could store them on pretty much any device, embed links to videos, charts etc, and how they could even be printed for small fees.

Why haven't colleges embraced this idea? The average college student will now spend $5,000 over four years in textbooks.

Here is an example of a tablet based open source marine biology textbook produced by Duke University.

Here is a link to an open source textbook library

This seems like such a great solution to one of the largest problems in affordable education. Why aren't students protesting traditional books and demanding more affordable options? Why aren't parents calling or writing letters asking for this option?
 

Deft Beck

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Colleges and textbook publishers profit from the established textbook market. It would be expensive and time-consuming to switch over to these alternatives.
 

nynt9

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So from what I understand these are textbooks written ground up to be open source. So it wouldn't work for already-made textbooks, you'd have to convince the publisher to do it, and the onus lies on individual professors to write textbooks and put them up here. What's the incentive for doing that? Who does the quality control?

I like the idea, but there are roadblocks.
 
Oct 17, 2005
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Colleges and textbook publishers profit from the established textbook market. It would be expensive and time-consuming to switch over to these alternatives.

Oh, I know why book publishers and Universities wouldn't want to do it, but I am more confused as to why consumers have not pushed back harder.

So from what I understand these are textbooks written ground up to be open source. So it wouldn't work for already-made textbooks, you'd have to convince the publisher to do it, and the onus lies on individual professors to write textbooks and put them up here. What's the incentive for doing that? Who does the quality control?

I like the idea, but there are roadblocks.

It would require new textbooks.

Peer review. The first link I posted mentioned that they submit requests for chapters, and then peer review each.
 

SRG01

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Jan 29, 2007
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The problem with open source textbooks is that anything above an intro-level course requires specific knowledge about a subject matter -- of which only a small fraction of people would know, let alone be willing to write and publish with little to no monetary incentive.
 

commish

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Even though students spend thousands on books, the students should really be making some of that back by selling their used books. People should also buy used books where possible.
 

cubicle47b

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Just about every grad school professor I've had has said "Now I'm not encouraging you to do this, but I've heard you can find the book online if you search for the book's title and pdf". There's no loyalty to the bookstore as it's out-sourced for a static yearly fee (I think).
 

Pizza Booty

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Because they don't want people fucking with their dollars. Textbooks are insult added to injury when it comes to college costs/value. The way they are constantly updated, even if the changes are relatively minor is purely a business decision to continue sales of their material. They are boring as shit too. Has anyone ever actually read a textbook that was written in a way that actually engages the reader? Is there any textbook authors that are famous? Seems like the entire institution behind academic material needs to be overhauled as well.
 

MGrant

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The textbook and testing industry is too big, and intertwined with pretty much every step of the educational process. From government policy to college admissions to even "little" things like primary school workbooks, you have to go through McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, College Board, Princeton Review. It doesn't matter how awesome or interesting an alternative information source might be; many teachers are legally forbidden from teaching from anything but approved textbooks. It's why I don't teach in the US anymore; there's too much money in the game to allow free or collaborative competitors into the scene.
 

Link

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NeOak

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Veritigo_X

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I've found it depends on the department in the school. Some departments are more invested in the textbook market than others since they have professors actively writing textbooks that they turn around and require for their own course. Schools are invested in this as well since they make millions each year from their own bookstore and the various bookstore contracts they sign.

In my school's computer science department, they were all about open source textbooks and making sure no one had to buy textbooks unless absolutely necessary. That was nice since it saved me so much money compared to my business school friends that were paying for their professor's new beach house.
 

The Albatross

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The cynical view is that college bookstores and book publishers are in cahoots to raise the prices of textbooks. This is partially true but more so a commentary about 3rd party textbook market and less so about free or open source text books. There's a give and take in buying text books... You can buy from your bookstore and have the convenience of having somebody find your books and be guaranteed to have the right books, spend more money, and get some of that back at the end of the year. Or, you can buy on your own, do a little more work finding good prices, and do a little more work selling back at the end of the year with some slight risk. For my junior and senior year of college (10 years ago), I very rarely bought any books... And when I did, I bought them once the prof assigned them, not at the beginning of the semester. But, for what it's worth, in those two years I had virtually zero text books because my major and minors were in humanities studies, courses are source generally from the classics and books that are available freely online or super cheap... I had to deal with some different translations from what my professor or classmates used, but probably spent about $75 on books for my final 2 years of college.

There is a lot of investment of time required to write a textbook and not much in terms of incentives. Writing a text book is not even like teaching a MOOC, where you get publicity and potentially attract future students for your university (plus, the professors are being paid by the university to teach that subject).

For what it's worth, good text books require an enormous amount of time and research from those who put them together. Many subjects could be "open sourced," but many require experts in a field to check and verify, which costs time and money.
 

pj

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Jun 8, 2004
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The cynical view is that college bookstores and book publishers are in cahoots to raise the prices of textbooks. This is partially true but more so a commentary about 3rd party textbook market and less so about free or open source text books. There's a give and take in buying text books... You can buy from your bookstore and have the convenience of having somebody find your books and be guaranteed to have the right books, spend more money, and get some of that back at the end of the year. Or, you can buy on your own, do a little more work finding good prices, and do a little more work selling back at the end of the year with some slight risk. For my junior and senior year of college (10 years ago), I very rarely bought any books... And when I did, I bought them once the prof assigned them, not at the beginning of the semester. But, for what it's worth, in those two years I had virtually zero text books because my major and minors were in humanities studies, courses are source generally from the classics and books that are available freely online or super cheap... I had to deal with some different translations from what my professor or classmates used, but probably spent about $75 on books for my final 2 years of college.

There is a lot of investment of time required to write a textbook and not much in terms of incentives. Writing a text book is not even like teaching a MOOC, where you get publicity and potentially attract future students for your university (plus, the professors are being paid by the university to teach that subject).

For what it's worth, good text books require an enormous amount of time and research from those who put them together. Many subjects could be "open sourced," but many require experts in a field to check and verify, which costs time and money.


Blah blah blah

A calculus textbook should not cost $272. How much could it have possibly changed in the last 20 years?

When I was in college 5+ years ago, the most expensive textbooks were for the classes everyone takes. My more advanced classes either had no textbook, or a fairly cheap very specific textbook.
 

Coriolanus

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Jul 24, 2013
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Brazil.
Is textbook cost solely a United States problem or is it mimicked in european countries + glorious canadia?
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Hm, a quick search on amazon.co.uk seems to indicate that some sort of fuckery is taking place.
hrmrm, amazon.fr places most calculus books at the 45 euro range. Several lower. A few over. None above 100 euro, as far as i saw.
Yeah, even in canada the price instantly drops to 185 canadian.
 
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