VIA Inside Higher Ed: Why Pay for Textbooks?

Suzanne Ferimer of the UH Libraries (and the UH Faculty Senate) called my attention to this piece, and I’m curious how faculty and librarians feel about this issue.  Here is a sample from the IHE article:

[Traditional, commercially-produced] introductory physics texts [will soon] have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers’ offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

Using Rice’s Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
We’ve had very protracted debates about textbooks in the past at UH, without ever developing a consensus.  Now, as the price of textbooks continues to rise, the state is starting to pay attention, even as publishers continue to pile on the supplementary goodies to justify their pricing.  So should the university try to set a policy regarding Open Sourcing of textbooks? Any thoughts?

2 Comments on “VIA Inside Higher Ed: Why Pay for Textbooks?”

  1. Miranda Bennett says:

    I’ve been a fan of the Connexions project for years (it’s one of the things that makes me proud to be a Rice alum!) and see this as an important next step for the platform. While it has always offered some outstanding content, it was presented in a way better suited for those with the time and energy to assemble the material for a unit or course from a set of building blocks than for those looking for a straightforward “textbook.” With regard to OpenStax, I particularly like the relatively inexpensive print-on-demand option, which addresses the concern that e-textbooks may not be as attractive to students as once believed.

    A university-wide policy on this issue seems unlikely, but I know many of us in the library would welcome the opportunity to help faculty explore new emerging types of course materials, including open source textbooks.

  2. Dave Mazella says:

    Hi Miranda, I agree with you about the refinement of this option, which is welcome. The hard part is getting it adopted by faculty, who for a variety of reasons have never cared much for this kind of thing. This seems to move things in the right direction, but I’d be curious whether others have actually tried to use these.

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