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.

Open Textbook Advocacy

Back in May 2009, I wrote about the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, CCCOER, which had launched in 2008 the Community College Open Textbook (CCOT) Project with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Their goals are to centralize open textbook information for use by community college professors and other educators and to document sustainable workflow approaches for producing, maintaining, and disseminating open textbooks.

What is an Open Textbook? 

Generally, they are:

- free, or very nearly free

- easy to use, get (download) and distribute

- editable so instructors can customize content

- cross-platform compatible

- printable

- accessible so it works with adaptive technologies

Recently, I began attending webinars offered by Open Textbook Advocate Trainers (a part of the Consortium) which uses a Ning social networking site as a learning stream for college campus promoters of open educational resources. Though I wasn't able to attend all the webinars yet, I am interested in being an Advocate/Trainer. These advocates foster interest in open textbooks, help faculty discover, select, and adopt open textbooks and help students choose a format (online, downloaded, printed, bound). Hopefully, they will work with all the stakeholders on campus (including bookstore, print shop, library, and administration) and also provide feedback to the authors and educational community.

Our own New Jersey Educational Activities Task Force is holding an event on April 9, 2010 on e-readers, e-books, e-textbook and I will present briefly on open textbooks. It will be held at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and anyone is welcome to attend (information at ) I'm hoping to get some interest so that we can offer an open textbook adoption workshop soon.

Although open textbooks are electronic textbooks by their delivery, when there are discussions about eTextbooks, it often means textbooks from traditional publishers that are also offered in an electronic format at a reduced cost from the print editions. Open textbooks are a very different approach to using textbooks.

An nice introductory article from Educause Review about the CCCOER project is called "It Takes a Consortium to Support Open Textbooks" and that is probably true.

I have just started collecting some materials on electronic textbooks online at that will include information on open textbooks, commercial eTextbooks and free textbook resources.

Open Textbook Project

In April 2008, the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources CCCOER launched the Community College Open Textbook (CCOT) Project, funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with the goals to centralize critical open textbook information for use by community college professors and other interested parties, and to document sustainable workflow approaches for producing, maintaining, and disseminating open textbooks.

What are the ways to make free, open textbooks a sustainable resource for faculty and students?

We can start by asking, "What is an Open Textbook?" That is something still being defined, but some working standards are that it is:

- free, or very nearly free

- easy to use, get (download) and distribute

- editable so instructors can customize content

- cross-platform compatible

- printable

- accessible so it works with adaptive technologies

You can help shape and define open textbooks by adding your voice to the standards, guide development, and vetting procedure to review textbooks and recommend texts that meet those quality standards.

Right now you can browse textbooks by subject but reviews are just beginning.

Math is the first area that is being reviewed and there are open texts on Applied Finite Mathematics, Dimensions (geometry), Elementary Algebra and Fundamentals of Mathematics. For example, if you look at Understanding Algebra and then check a review of it, you can see the rubric being used and comments on each of the existing chapters.

There is also an online meeting place for those involved in the project at  using the popular Ning social networking platform.

It Takes a Consortium to Support Open Textbooks is a good introductory article from EDUCAUSE Review about the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources efforts.

Dr. David Yonutas, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, at Santa Fe College reports the launch of an initiative at his college to promote the use of digital textbooks. His argument, which has bee well-received, includes:

1. Digital texts require computers. Fostering a "Go Green, Print Less" culture at our campus and digital texts are a component of this culture.

2. Students receive money for technology as part of their financial aid awards.

3. Faculty are reluctant to adopt a "You MUST purchase a laptop" policy at the college because of hardships of cost.

4. Many Netbooks now cost less than $300, so using ONLY two or three digital texts that are OERs OVER HIS OR HER ENTIRE CAREER AT THE COLLEGE would save the student more than enough money to purchase the Netbook.

Visit Community College Open Textbook Project

Connexions is an open-source platform and open-access repository for open educational resources, enabling the creation, sharing, modification, and vetting of open educational material accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime via the World Wide Web.

Mary Zedeck at Seton Hall passed on a link to a call for manuscripts for an upcoming special issue of Innovate on "The Future of the Textbook." Innovate is an open-access, peer-reviewed, online periodical published bimonthly by the Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University. The journal focuses on the creative use of information technology to enhance education and training in academic, commercial, and governmental settings.

The projected publication date is December/January 2010. This special issue is on the future of one key element of "old school" education that survives in a Web 2.0 world: the textbook.The questions that the issue will explore are good questions for any discussion you might be starting on the future of textbooks. If you teach, how do your students feel about e-textbooks?

1. What will textbooks look like in the future? Will the textbook as we know it continue to exist in some recognizable form, or is the future of the textbook limited?

2. How will emerging technology (downloadable textbooks, Kindles and cell-phone-sized readers) transform the content, function, and uses of the textbook?

3. How can textbooks be made accessible and affordable for disadvantaged learners and those in developing countries lacking the resources to acquire and maintain print textbooks?

4. What is the current state-of-the-art in textbooks? How are K-21 educators already experimenting with e-textbooks and other innovations? What can these experiments tell us about the future of the textbook?

5. What role will wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies play in the textbook of the future?

6. How can the textbooks of the future incorporate the best features of constructivist and authentic learning principles, by tailoring content to individual learner needs (including the needs of disabled learners) or through other technological innovations?

7. How will textbooks shape the interaction between teacher and student and the role of the teacher in education?

8. What developments -- in technology, in funding, in pedagogical theory, and in politics and copyright law -- will be required to make e-textbooks readily available, especially to students in developing countries?

If you would like to contribute a manuscript on this topic, review their submission guidelines. Deadline May 31, 2009.