Are Your Students Buying The Textbook?

As I have written before, as the cost of textbooks continues to rise, more and more college students are choosing not to buy them. Almost half of my class this semester has no textbook. They choose to either borrow a copy from a classmate or the library, or just rely on whatever parts of the book I cover in class (which is probably about 30%).

I would prefer to use a free and open textbook, but I haven't found one for that particular course (Critical Thinking).

Some scary stats:

According to, 7 out of 10 undergraduates surveyed at 13 college campuses said they had not purchased one or more textbooks because the cost was too high when surveyed by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that textbooks cost a quarter the average tuition for state universities and three-fourths the average tuition at community colleges.

PIRG analysis also found the price of textbooks has risen 22% over the past four years, which is a much faster rate than overall inflation.

Rising prices come as student debt has also soared to record levels. In fact, that debt exceeds the total credit card debt in 2010.

College Open Textbooks: Winner for 'Most Open' has announced the winners of their first annual OCW People’s Choice Awards, which honor the best of the Open Education Movement. Over 4000 people voted for their best educational resources in this inaugural contest, and College Open Textbooks was recognized as the OCW People’s Choice Winner for Most Open. 

According to, “Openness is a key part of any OCW - after all, it's in the name. But what providers excel at giving their users a wealth of material to access and lots of different ways to do it? The nominees in this category all understand that to make courseware truly open, variety and depth are key.”

Other winners included Open Course Library, FGV Online, African Virtual University OER, Open Study, MIT Physics and more.

Gluing Open Educational Resources Together


OER Glue is a product (still under development) that comes from a Utah-based startup. It's a a browser-based tool that allow you to “glue” together OER resources online. Rather than having to copy-and-paste resources into a new setting, OER Glue will reuse and integrate resources.
When you find good OER (open education resources), you copy it to use, but OER keeps evolving and your project becomes outdated. OER Glue wants to allow you to mash live OERs into your project.

"Your content stays fresh," according to OER Glue's Web site. OER Glue also integrates with many important educational and cultural Web 2.0 platforms and sites, including Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blackboard, Moodle, Flickr, Wikipedia, Plone, Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, MediaWiki, RSS, Delicious, Google Calendar, Survey Monkey, Maple TA, IRC, SMS, e-mail, and more.

See how OER GLUE works in brief

The site also offers open courses That's an area best represented by MIT's Open Courseware Initiative but there are many other sites. Check out the list at

Einstein University

In the last twenty years, open source technology has revolutionized our digital lives. You may even recognize that open web servers (Apache), open web browsers (Firefox), open office suites (, open course management systems (Moodle), open mobile applications (Android), open encyclopedias (Wikipedia), and open textbooks (Flat World Knowledge) are part of this revolution. Did you know that Google Maps is updated by volunteer cartographers?

I truly believe that the university we know will change radically in the next 10 years and will not exist in a form we are familiar with in 50 years. I'm not sure how long it will take for free and open online universities to not only exist but to be accepted by employers, but it's coming.

From the blog at College Open Textbooks, I learned about Einstein University. It may not be what University 2.0 or 3.0 will look like, but it is part of the change. It has no set schedule and volunteer professors who are not assigned to particular courses. All they have to do to maintain volunteer faculty status is to earn a certain number of points each quarter. They can earn these points by editing an open textbook, answering a student’s question, uploading a seminar or lecture, or submitting a test question. When and how volunteer professors decide to earn their points is totally up to them.

Instead of charging students tuition, Einstein University funds itself through ad revenue. If that seems impractical, look at Wikipedia (which is built on the same software) is one of the most visited websites and has only 35 employees. That is a 1:8,000,000 employee:user ratio - but it does have 90,000 volunteers.

Einstein University’s mission is to take OER to the next level by allowing individuals an opportunity to use these resources to earn college credit. The idea behind Einstein University is simple: instead of a company creating the course material, all of its content is created collaboratively, and instead of paid professors facilitating the courses, all of its faculty members are volunteers.

Einstein University is also a way for professors to volunteer and offers a place to create their open content.

Its interactive approach to open textbooks with each textbook having its own section for a chat room, discussion board, news, journals, seminars, lectures, papers, research groups, data and web resources.

The university also doubles as an academic social network where students and professors can share ideas, collaborate on research, and read each other’s papers.

Einstein University does have a plan for accreditation and hopes to eventually offer undergraduate and graduate degrees online for free. The immediate plan is to offer a 2-year Associate Arts degree in 25 different languages and apply for accreditation in some of the main countries that speak those languages. If successful, this would make higher education free for millions of people in the developing world who lack access to it. At the moment the university has minimal content, but over the next year it hopes volunteer professors will begin to add it.