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Brown Signs California Bill For Free Textbooks 201

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-the-knowledge,-none-of-the-calories dept.
bcrowell writes "California Governor Jerry Brown has signed SB 1052 and 1053, authored by state senator Darrell Steinberg, to create free textbooks for 50 core lower-division college courses. SB 1052 creates a California Open Education Resources Council, made up of faculty from the UC, Cal State, and community college systems. The council is supposed to pick 50 core courses. They are then to establish a 'competitive request-for-proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties would apply for funds to produce, in 2013, 50 high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials, meeting specified requirements.' The bill doesn't become operative unless the legislature funds it — a questionable process in California's current political situation. The books could be either newly produced (which seems unlikely, given the 1-year time frame stated) or existing ones that the state would buy or have free access to. Unlike former Gov. Schwarzenegger's failed K-12 free textbook program, this one specifically defines what it means by 'open source,' rather than using the term as a feel-good phrase; books have to be under a CC-BY (or CC-BY-SA?) license, in XML format. They're supposed to be modularized and conform to state and W3C accessibility guidelines. Faculty would not be required to use the free books."
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Brown Signs California Bill For Free Textbooks

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  • ..and... (Score:5, Informative)

    by raydobbs (99133) on Friday September 28, 2012 @05:56PM (#41494387) Homepage Journal

    "Faculty would not be required to use the free books"

    With this one phrase, the entire idea is rendered useless. Why bother with free textbooks for college level classes if no college will offer classes that use them for coursework? The state will pay for the development, sure... like California can really pay for anything else...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm sure lots of community colleges will love to use them, especially since the license allows them to tailor it for their own classes. That will likely translate into the textbooks used at larger schools, since faculty at a big Uni will sometimes moonlight at a community college. Also, the students can download the books for free, which makes it a lot more portable, and cheaper for the students.

      All we need now is an inexpensive printing press so they can be produced on-demand for students that want a pap

      • by Kenja (541830)
        From my experience, the community colleges are the ones that require the student to use the book the teacher wrote and self publishes.
      • by Githaron (2462596)
        I have heard about on-demand book printing kiosks that print and bind books for you.
      • by maxdread (1769548)

        Only if someone is going to step up to the plate and start doing automated testing software based on these books as well. Last couple classes I took required that you take the tests/quizes on the publishers website (which btw if you bought a used book, you get to spend $40 for access) since it freed up the teacher from having to go over any of the work.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Okay, so first off, you're saying the government should ban all college textbooks except the ones they write? No potential issues spring to mind?

      And second, why WOULDN'T professors want to use the free texts? Believe it or not they actually don't get kickbacks for choosing a particular book (I say this as a college instructor who chooses textbooks regularly). Do you think they're making kids pay $200 out of spite? No, they're doing it because you need a textbook if you're going to teach something like Intro

      • by Githaron (2462596)
        Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.
        • Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.

          Open source -- which, not "free" in the sense of free-of-charge -- books don't stop the bookstore from selling printed copies, or even from doing so at a profit.

        • by bcrowell (177657)

          Professors might want to use the free books but the colleges/universities might not. They can't get a cut from the bookstore if the bookstore doesn't sell any books.

          College administrators don't make decisions on what textbook to adopt. Professors do.

    • Re:..and... (Score:5, Informative)

      by bcrowell (177657) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:56PM (#41494981) Homepage

      With this one phrase, the entire idea is rendered useless. Why bother with free textbooks for college level classes if no college will offer classes that use them for coursework?

      I think this is a little too pessimistic. A lot of free books already exist, and a lot of faculty are already using them. See my sig for a catalog that includes several hundred examples. The books that are actively in use for instruction tend to highly "top-heavy," i.e., there's a ton of free graduate texts, not as many college ones, few high school ones, and almost no K-8 books.

      The teacher's privilege of choosing what book to use is an important part of academic freedom in higher education. The lack of choice by teachers is part of what makes K-12 textbooks suck so much. K-12 books are written by a committee and sold to a commitee, based on criteria such as whether they show pictures of disabled kids doing math.

      My own experience as the author of some free physics textbooks is that teachers' ability to choose the book they want is a huge positive factor in getting people to use my books. I currently have about 30-40 college adoptions and about 30-40 high school adoptions. (There's no way for me to know exact numbers, because the books are free.) Of those high school adoptions, nearly all are from private schools (mostly Catholic schools). The reason isn't hard to guess. K-12 textbook selection in public schools is highly political and bureaucratic. A high school physics teacher at a public school can't simply choose whatever book he wants.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        At the very least a please explain why should be mandated. So use the free book or provide substantive reasons why a high cost printed text book is required. Explanation to be made public and to be reviewed by an educators board. This to block greedy professors and of course to promote worthwhile updates to the free texts.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Why should they be REQUIRED to use the free books?

      Having the free books is a good idea (though having to sign a law for this seems extreme). What if one of the for pay books actually has better information/teaching methods?

      I suspect they will gravitate to the free books _if they are sufficiently useful_. Probably more for "lower level" classes.

      Way back in college, for elective classes, at least one class' book was one of the college printer's books filled with short sections of other books.. So it was mu

      • Mathematics is one course that absolutely should have free open source textbooks made for it and be REQUIRED to teach from. This would save the students an incredible amount of money and you can be sure the information isnt going to become dated any time soon. Even the 'construction files' that layout the book should be available and open source so the book can be re-arranged, new pictures inserted, customization etc.
    • by Arterion (941661)

      I'm currently a college student, and many of my professors are sensitive to textbook prices. One in particular, for computer science, refused to make us buy a textbook (because they were a rip off), and instead provided his own materials on his website. For general physics, there were also modules online, and our professor said the textbook was optional, and suggested we buy and older edition if we wanted one, to save money. My differential equations professor provided homework assignments for both the curr

  • by magarity (164372) on Friday September 28, 2012 @05:59PM (#41494411)

    It doesn't become active until the legislature funds it? How free is that? Perhaps some experts on the subjects in question could volunteer time to write intro level textbooks (with the idea of writing advanced books for sale)? That would be "free". Seriously, the use of the word free is much abused lately, much like spending cuts have long since meant less increases in spending.

    • why does free have to be funded?

      Because "free" in the sense means "libre", not "gratis".

      Actually, the new law doesn't say "free" at all, it says "open source" in general, and specifies the exact requirement as that the material be licensed under:

      a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

      (Cal.Ed.Code, Sec. 66409(f)(1), as added by

    • by chrismcb (983081)
      If you have to pay $100 for one book, or $0 for another, I'm pretty sure you will claim that the $0 book is free.
      Sure there was a cost involved with creating the book. The cost was time and or money or other resources. But to the poor starving college student, the only thing that matters is the actual cost of the book... In other words free.
  • 200$ laptops even with replacements over the years are cheaper than 10,000$ in books for k-12.

    They should do studies with some kids to see if they learn as good on a computer as a book.

    Once this data is compiled, throw in some educational aps too, and you're probably beating what you can get on just books alone.
    • Maybe I'm old school, but I'd rather study from a textbook than a screen. Maybe someone could invent a portable device where I can read books where the text resembles electronic ink? And there can be an electronic marketplace where you can buy these books! Hopefully this post can kindle a few ideas..
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by maxdread (1769548)

        That's a bit of a far fetched idea. I've searched the earth far and wide, in every Nook and cranny, I've even searched deep in the Amazon and have yet to find anything similar to that which you desire.

  • I have a feeling the committee may strangle it, unless they are very carefully chosen as people who can work together.

  • Countdown to lawsuit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#41494501) Journal

    How long until the textbook industry sues California for unfair competition?

    • by arth1 (260657)

      How long until the textbook industry sues California for unfair competition?

      I don't know - what time is it now?

  • Sections 1 and 2 of this act shall become operative only if funding for the purposes of this act is provided in an appropriation in the annual Budget Act or another statute, or through federal or private funds, or through a combination of state, federal, and private funds.

    Well, I had my hopes up for a second, anyway.

  • by J'raxis (248192)

    If these are "free textbooks," why does the legislature have to fund it?

    How about we be honest, eh? No one is providing "free" textbooks. No one is volunteering to create these things and give them away. The taxpayers will be forced to pay for these books rather than their actual users.

    • by jmerlin (1010641)
      This. I'm tired of the government subsidizing something and calling it "reform" or "free." The problem with textbooks isn't the price we have to pay, it's the price PERIOD. Shifting the burden on to taxpayers instead of individuals actually changes nothing. Real reform says to textbook manufacturers:
      • You cannot re-release the same book as a "separate edition" just because you changed the questions at the end of each section or fixed a typo.
      • You cannot bundle a textbook with online courseware that is not
      • by skelly33 (891182)
        Shifting the burden on to taxpayers instead of individuals actually changes nothing.

        Actually, I would submit that shifting the burden does change something in this case. I don't know about the state of affairs in other states, but the California community college school system is over-booked for enrollment, and severely under capitalized from state funding. If the College were to shift to free books for the students, the school would lose out on the revenue stream that comes from all those students marc
        • If the College were to shift to free books for the students, the school would lose out on the revenue stream that comes from all those students marching into the campus book store to pick up their copy, further compounding the funding problem for the schools.

          From what I've heard, that "revenue stream" generally goes to (1) pay publishers for the books, and (2) pay the operating costs of the book store, and doesn't actually return much of anything to the school.

        • by lahvak (69490)

          I don't know what is the situation with college bookstore in California, but many colleges nationwide are getting rid of their bookstores and outsourcing them to large booksellers. We outsourced ours two years ago, since we just couln't keep up with the cost. As far as I know, most colleges sink considerable amount of money into their bookstores every year, and the money is typically only partially offsett by selling college brand merchandise in the bookstores.

      • I'm tired of the government subsidizing something and calling it "reform" or "free."

        It is the media (e.g., the L.A. Times in TFA) calling it "free". The government, in the actual law, calls it "open source", which, given the specific license requirements in the law, is entirely accurate.

        The problem with textbooks isn't the price we have to pay, it's the price PERIOD.

        If you are interested in textbook reform other than the move to acquire some open source textbooks (California SB 1052 and SB 1053 of this pa

        • by jmerlin (1010641)

          The bill would require the council to establish a competitive request-for-proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties would apply for funds to produce, in 2013, 50 high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials, meeting specified requirements.

          But really, just how "competitive" do any of these things every really turn out to be? I don't think it necessarily needs to be open source. It just needs to be of an acceptable quality (there are

    • If these are "free textbooks," why does the legislature have to fund it?

      As one might expect Slashdot users to know (well, maybe not) "free" is often used to refer to certain liberal licensing terms ("libre") rather than free-of-charge ("gratis").

      Although -- no doubt much to Richard Stallman's chagrin -- the law itself actually uses the term "open source" rather than "free".
       

    • by fermion (181285)
      I know that many of /. readers have never really tried to create highly quality production level content, but it is really hard to do. College textbooks are really hard to produce because they must be highly rigorous but realize the student does not yet have the vocabulary or context.

      Look around for introductory physics textbooks, for instance. I have seen some that are pretty good, but were made simply to say that a free textbook was available. There were none of the niceties one expects in a textbook

  • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:09PM (#41494541)

    They could use the books already on Wikibooks ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikibooks.org] ) as a starting point.

    I wonder if the open-source books they will produce will break away from the paper textbook paradigm (linear text+static images)? The one I am writing ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods [wikibooks.org] ) is heavily hyperlinked, I've included a spreadsheet and expect to include other media, am working on a resource library ( http://www.mediafire.com/?y1ko8gj5rouob [mediafire.com] ), and the concept of "class projects" (design studies) which become part of the book.

    • by BlueCoder (223005)

      Hyperlinks break. Better to just create a supplementary "book" with recent material and trends and listings for further reading. That way readers aren't frustrated clicking on broken links in the main textbook after the book is a couple years old.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:14PM (#41494587)
    I have never understood this business. Not much has changed in say basic trig or geometry in 100 years. In that time basic subject textbooks should have been whittled down to two or three that are simply the best. But somehow there is different textbooks in nearly every school system in North America; yet a school system in SoCal should be able to use the same textbook as in Maine. The textbook companies have somehow convinced every schoolboard that they should tailor the books to match their exact curriculum. This gives the schoolboards a warm and fuzzy feeling while they set up approval commities, training sessions, etc for the new books. Yet these books add up to a huge percentage of the budget.

    My two daughters have nearly useless textbooks year after year which their teachers just don't use. They will have questions like: "Write down all the ways 10 numbered marbles can be put into 5 lettered bags." Holy crap do these people even have a basic understanding of math.

    It is not just ebooks that can replace these dinosaurs but cool online videos.

    Bye bye massively commissioned textbook sales people.
    • by skelly33 (891182)
      Search the web for the Texas School Board vs. school text books. I saw a documentary on this last year that was pretty enlightening (and alarming). At the end of the day, it's an economic play that determines what books end up getting selected, but during the course of the day, it's the folks in Texas who have a the most prominent voice over the content of the books, nation-wide.
  • Its still being paid for by tax dollars, but at least there is no additional fee to the parents, unless of course you have nothing to view them on.. so 'free' e-ink for all..

  • by glassware (195317) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:18PM (#41494631) Homepage Journal

    Frankly, elementary school lessons don't change that much from one year to the next. The current textbooks my child uses are incredibly simple, and they contain pretty timeless lessons. If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright, they could easily make it available to all schools to use, or they could copy relevant sections from many books to make a single "First Grade Math Book" or "Second Grade English Book".

    Doing so would eliminate a HUGE amount of the cost of school. When you see how much a school spends on textbooks, you'll be bowled over. The latest textbooks I've seen have basically one sentence of text per page, accompanied with huge, two page spread art pictures - totally worthless and a waste of space. Even "See Spot Run" had more than one sentence per page.

    Stop our schools from spending money on stuff that doesn't matter. The textbooks aren't going to make our kids smart. Time with a teacher will.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      Frankly, elementary school lessons don't change that much from one year to the next. The current textbooks my child uses are incredibly simple, and they contain pretty timeless lessons. If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright, they could easily make it available to all schools to use

      Somehow I think that a textbook from 50-70 years ago would be way too advanced [sensible-m...cation.com] for today's kids.

      Here [dailymail.co.uk] are some test questions that 11-12 year old British kids would need to pass in the fifties to go to grammar school.
      Hands up, anyone who thinks that kids born in 2001 would pass this test. Ever.

      • by skelly33 (891182)
        Thanks for that link to sensible-math-education - after a quick scan, it looks like an interesting read!
        • by arth1 (260657)

          I think it looks good too, but I still think it's sad that parents may have to resort to private tutoring to give kids a mathematical education comparable in quality to what children receive in other parts of the world.

    • by skelly33 (891182)
      If someone was to take a textbook from 50 or 70 years ago that was out of copyright...

      You mean like the ones that taught us how women are supposed to be serving in the kitchen, that children should never speak, especially when Father is present, and that Father should not tolerate any insolence from either? Cultural/societal values present themselves in the darnedest places.

      It may seem that simple on the surface, but in fact it is not. The language and message carried in books needs to be updated to r
  • When my wife was taking math classes a few years ago, one of her professors had written his own text book and gave it away for free as a pdf to anyone, including other schools and teachers, who wanted it. He thought it was such a waste for the students to be forced to buy a $120 book they use once and then get $18 back for it, then see it resold for $86.
  • I'm not super well-versed in my eBook formats, but I was under the impression that the common formats, such as ePub and MOBI/AZW, use combinations of XML (such as ePub's manifest files) and HTML. From the summary, it sounds as if this is yet another eBook format we'll have to contend with, which won't be supported by the popular eReaders out there.

    When I say I want an eBook, I mean I want to be able to read it on my Kindle or Nook. E-Ink, not LCD. It seems to me that the best option would be to follow th

    • "Yes, since it's 'open source' we will probably be able to convert the books, but how many people are going to know how to do that?"

      There need be only one!

    • by GeLeTo (527660)
      They most probably mean DocBook XML. In the XML you only express data - chapters, articles, paragraphs, titles, images... No formatting. And then using the same XML you can generate HTML, PDF, ePub, MOBI, htmlhelp, etc...
      • They most probably mean DocBook XML.

        I've posted the actual format require from the law in a separate response to GP, but "DocBook XML" isn't what it calls for.

    • I'm not super well-versed in my eBook formats, but I was under the impression that the common formats, such as ePub and MOBI/AZW, use combinations of XML (such as ePub's manifest files) and HTML.

      Doesn't ePub uses a combination of XML and XML, requiring the "HTML" part to be XHTML.

      From the summary, it sounds as if this is yet another eBook format we'll have to contend with, which won't be supported by the popular eReaders out there.

      Why would you trust a Slashdot summary of a short LA Times article to provid

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Friday September 28, 2012 @06:57PM (#41494997)
    Have you seen the fnords?
  • by enigma32 (128601) on Friday September 28, 2012 @07:08PM (#41495063)

    This is ridiculous.
    I moved to California a year ago to be with my wife will she attends grad school and I have been appalled at the insanity that regularly occurs in this state as compared to anywhere the East coast.

    1) Freely available educational material is fantastic.
    2) Having the government pay for freely available educational material that will not necessarily be used by the college courses they are intended for is bad.
    3) Forcing professors to use the state-sponsored books would be even worse. The Government can't get anything right, so I certainly wouldn't want some bureaucrat deciding what books were going to be used in a course I was taking.
    4) This state doesn't need to spend any more money on anything. Period. They need to get their spending under control before trying to enhance things. 10%+ sales tax? Very bad! And I can hardly wait to see my income taxes for the past year.

    Summary:
    This is a terrible idea. The CA state government needs to start thinking about NOT defaulting rather than blowing money on ridiculous schemes with no payoff.
    There are already some freely available texts anyway, from programs pioneered by top universities. Why not incentivize things like that rather than trying to take more under the government umbrella?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I moved to California a year ago to be with my wife will she attends grad school and I have been appalled at the insanity that regularly occurs in this state as compared to anywhere the East coast.

      Probably because most of those east coast states have anywhere from half (think New York) to 1/75 (Vermont) the population of California. It is much easier to achieve consensus and compromise with less people. What you end up with are a lot of great intentions that are picked apart until they either fail or become a shell of the actual intent. That being said, California still leads the nation on many issues and is probably best considered a testing ground of potential national ideas.

      2) Having the government pay for freely available educational material that will not necessarily be used by the college courses they are intended for is bad.

      No it is not. Open

    • by evilviper (135110)

      You've given no reason at all for your California-hate. If you don't like it, fine, feel free to leave, but don't pretend there's a lot wrong with the state, as oppsed to not aligning with your own biases.

      California is in-debt, but many states are in far worse shape, and the debt is due to lots of public services and restrictions keeping property taxes low and predictable (so it's a good place to own a home, or property. Sales tax in California varies by County, and most places it's well below 10%. It's

      • by enigma32 (128601)

        Actually, I have given reasons for why I hate California.
        I hate it because everything here is completely nonsensical.

        California is ranked 49 out of 51 for unemployment (not good at all): http://money.cnn.com/interactive/economy/state-unemployment-rates/ [cnn.com]
        And at 7.25%, California has the great distinction of having the highest minimum sales tax in the US. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sales_and_use_taxes_in_California)

        And no, my objection is not baseless. It's based on the fact that government spending on some

  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Friday September 28, 2012 @07:36PM (#41495279) Journal
    So what's a poor textbook company supposed to do now? Oh, I know, pay teachers to choose my textbooks and ignore the free ones!
  • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Friday September 28, 2012 @08:07PM (#41495523)

    Free open source California textbooks unavailable for download due to bogus DMCA takedown notices from Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan.

  • I think there's a problem. They'll be up against financisl support for public universities in California.
  • While I do agree that requiring faculty to use the free books is dangerous, take a look at it from the professor's point of view. One of my professors in my paralegal program freely spoke to us about the process of choosing textbooks. He basically said that the majority of textbooks out there on a given topic are the same. Occasionally, there'll be a standout book but his general thought was that no book was perfect - that is, books that cover one area of the subject well tend to lack in other areas. Thus,
  • But the course material is virtually identical for all states.
    If all states got involved there would be 50 times the budget!
    By using similar systems to those used by software development you could allow a teacher to download the source tree, edit as desired and let students download the nightly build.
    You could even make a branch for the religious fanatic states, where they can add intelligent design or whatever, no reason to not take their money.
    With some organization you could make it easy for any teacher

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