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Education Open Source Software The Almighty Buck United States Technology

States Are Moving To Cut College Costs By Introducing Open-Source Textbooks ( 123

In an effort to curb the rising cost of textbooks, which went up by 88% between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maryland and New York have announced initiatives that adopt open-source, copyright-free textbooks. The initiatives will reward colleges who adapt or scale the use of OER (open educational resources) -- "materials like electronic textbooks that typically use licenses that are far less restrictive than traditional, copyrighted textbooks," reports Quartz. From the report: The University System of Maryland recently announced that it would be giving out 21 "mini-grants" to seven community colleges and five public four-year schools. The grants will go to "faculty who are adopting, adapting or scaling the use of OER [open educational resources] in Fall 2017 through high-enrollment courses where quality OER exists," according to the announcement. Although the mini-grants are only $500 to $2,500 each, the effort in Maryland is expected to save 8,000 students up to $1.3 million in the Fall 2017 semester alone. That's a significant amount, but just a drop in the bucket of what students in the state spend on textbooks each year. Another big investment in open educational resources came in the budget passed in New York state last week. The news was somewhat buried by the fact that the budget includes free tuition for New York students whose families make up to $125,000 a year, but the state will also be putting $8 million into open source materials over the next fiscal year.
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States Are Moving To Cut College Costs By Introducing Open-Source Textbooks

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  • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2017 @11:35PM (#54267515)

    Those stupid one use only keys should go first, IMO. Open materials are fine and all, but that will take a long time to develop. I think it would be much more effective to ban courses from requiring textbooks that have no resale value, and to prefer books that come in an international edition, with resources to help students acquire the international editions while ensuring that it's the right book for the course.

    • >to prefer books that come in an international edition,

      Hell, it'd be nice to see international education standards. Anything not tainted by culture or politics should be ripe for standardization... so anything math/science at least.

      It's stupid to duplicate the effort countless times around the globe beyond translating to local language.

      • Introductory courses are hard because everyone has different ideas of where to start.

        At high levels, international standards have existed for a long time. Decades ago, in the height of the Cold War, a Russian series of physics textbooks was the standard worldwide. It's still used today. It has some generic physics names, but is referred to as "Landau and Lifshitz." If we could use a Soviet authored standard set of physics books in the US in the 1960s, we could probably use international standards today

    • These are very well understood fields. It's trivial to right text books for them. Don't waste time trying to fix a broken system. You'll get mired down in lawsuits. Nothing will get done. Nothing will change. We tolerated the corrupt textbook market because most students didn't pay for them. They got grants to do that. We cut all that funding and now they have to pay (My Kid's books are around $1000 a year for a bloody undergrad). Now we're on the hook. Kill the old system. Letting textbook companies skim w
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 19, 2017 @11:53PM (#54267575)

    In my experience there were two really annoying "features" that, if eliminated, would slack textbook costs:

    - incremental revisions: publishers put out regular "revisions" that really don't do much except shuffle some things around and *stop you reselling your text to next year's class*.
    - over-the-top binding: physics was the worst offender for this in my experience. The only version of certain "classic" texts (Jackson's Electrodynamics springs to mind) you could get your hands on at any of the local bookshops would be the leather-bound edition with the shiny gold lettering, inbuilt cloth bookmark and (judging by the price) the ability to travel through space and time, cure cancer and end world freakin' hunger. I don't know, this might not be such an issue now we have Amazon et al, but back in the 90s the combined cost of your physics tomes could easily wipe out your food budget for a few months (unless you were willing to camp out in the photocopy room at the library for a day... not that we ever did such things).

    • The first of these isn't really a problem with the textbooks, it's a problem with the teaching. At university level, textbooks should be for gaining some extra detail and background that isn't covered by the course. If your course depends on a particular textbook to such a degree that rearranging the material makes the textbook unusable, then your course is probably a waste of everyone's time and the students should just go and read the book instead.
      • It's curiously always books that were written by the person holding the lecture. Correlation or causation?

    • Hah, when I went to university there was a certain class of professor who was never going to do anything meaningful as a researcher, and so their favorite scam was to write a textbook on whatever subject they taught - and then prescribe that specific textbook for the course - and always require this years edition.

      300 or 400 guaranteed sales every year for decades for a book that costs 3 times what comparable books on the subject costs - easy to get published and a nice little bonus of easy money for the pro

      • That's easy to avoid - rarely are those professors the only ones for that particular course, so pick a different one.

        Also I saved a ton of money by not buying any textbooks until the first time I needed them. While all the used copies are typically gone by then (unless you're lucky enough to grab returns from those who drop the course), buying 5 out of 20 "required" books new each semester is an order of magnitude cheaper than buying 20 out of 20 used ones.

        • I only encountered it in one course, and that course really DID have only one professor, and since that course was CompSCI101 - it was impossible to get to the rest of the compsci faculty without passing through that.

          • that course was CompSCI101

            My university was one of the few in the state system where you borrowed your textbooks from the campus library for the year, so I dodged that bullet. After freshman year it was running joke in the group of Comp Sci people I knew that you never actually had to open your CS textbooks the whole semester, since it was all PowerPoint presentations and programming work anyway, and you could find most anything you were wondering about via a minute or two on Google.

            There would still be the occasional course where 2

    • (unless you were willing to camp out in the photocopy room at the library for a day... not that we ever did such things).

      Fun fact: here (CH) the license that the university library has for books and journal actually includes a right for duplication (so student can copy a couple of page if that's all what is needed instead of buying the whole book / journal issue), and makes sure to provide enough exemplars of the book (for critical books required by lectures) that aren't allowed to be loaned (so there's always at least a few books free in the morning when you arrive).

      In the 2000s part of my side-job of helping staff even cons

    • Speaking of binding. How about lets not sell university published textbooks with no binding at all for $200+. This seems to be a growing trend at my local university. Of course, the only available vendor for the textbook is the university printery and since the the professors of these courses wrote or greatly contributed to these books, they make sure that if you don't buy the text book, that you're not going to pass the class. SGA tried to fight back a little by making several copies of each available at t
    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      The binding isn't the problem, that's a tiny portion of the cost of the book. I would have loved some fancy binding on my $200 textbooks, at least then they would have held together a little better. I remember one, for $225, softcover and printed in black and white, with streaks - the printing wasn't even very good.

      That was before I stopped buying textbooks entirely. After that I decided I'd just try to make due without them, which... was probably not the best choice for my education.
      • After that I decided I'd just try to make due without them, which... was probably not the best choice for my education.

        Really depends what field you're going into. For Comp Sci I didn't have a problem.

  • Oh good. Surely this will help reduce the times we have to keep writing the same thing over and over [].

  • Back in the late 70s and early 80s, we typically paid around $10/ gen ed books, except for science/engineering (which were always changing), and IIRC, the most expensive one was $40.
    Then in early 90s went back for another degree, and noticed that upper end had moved to around $100/science.

    So, what are these now? It almost sounds like these are $500-1000 for a single text book? But that would be insane.
    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      I'm guessing math isn't your strong suit. Unless you think that $100 price tripled or more between the early nineties and 2006.

      • Obviously, comprehension is not your strong point.
        In a 10 year period of early 80s to the early 90s, we say a 100% rise. The OP mentioned 88% over a 10 year period from 2006-2016. So, how much did it rise in 16 years? well, roughly 100% every 10 years. So, by 2000, the price would be $200, and then 60% or so ON THE $200 for the 6 years would make that around $320. 88% for the last decade would make that around 600 on up.
        So, last I check, $600+ falls in between $500-1000, but perhaps you have some new m
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Open-source textbooks are fine and I hope for the best for this format. As long as you don't take a course from a professor that authored a book that is required for your class. I went through college 25 years ago and had to work an ass-ton of extra hours to pay for my limited-use author-only (read a book you had to buy and study if you wanted to pass the class). The best thing I remember in the last 15 years beyond graduation.. was an effort to produce a highlighter pen that faded in 1 year.. so you cou

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Open source text books, will be by far the best possible text books. Constantly revised, peer reviewed and globally accessible, which will have a real impact on the properly accredited writers careers. Being an electronic text, they can become far more expansive, adding in animation, simulations, images and video. Also as part of that text book, lesson plans, study notes, essay questions, sample tests, all of it can be added in, making open source text books far superior to last years dead wood.

      The more un

      • by Mandrel ( 765308 )

        Qualified people will have major incentives to produce contributions and have them accepted and be accredited for that work

        Is this because of the prestige (including career benefits) of contributing to "the" textbook for that subject?

        I agree wholeheartedly on the benefits of open-source textbooks, just like open-source software. However, if top-quality contributions aren't being commonly donated, I'd have no trouble having the books cost something. That is, while there would be freedom to create and distribute derivative works, both these and the originals wouldn't have the freedom to read without paying. The problem would b

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Why donated, what you speak of. Your university hires people to teach, instead of teaching all of the time, the university board tells them they 'WILL' produce that work and the university will own it. Universities will tend to hire those people who produce the best work, motivation provided and work produced, nothing done for free.

  • There are said to be countries around where education is practically free...

    To go into serious dept for education benefits whom?

    This topic is so old ...

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      You mean there are countries where every taxpayer shares the load so that anyone can get an education. It might not be a bad idea, but it's hardly free.

      • Actually it is - in fact, it's not just free - the cost is NEGATIVE.
        It's an investment - with extremely high and lucrative returns. In the medium to long term, making education free actually LOWERS everyone's taxes.

        • Sure, I'm in. As long as you limit it to a number that makes sense and make it so that admission is based on ability and continued participation is based on academic performance. You don't make grades you are out. You can try to retake a class only once. Limited to 4 or 5 years max for a bachelor's depending on the particular major. No changing your major after your second year, time limit still applies. I think Germany does something like this.
          • I could be on board with sensible limitations on it - though I'm not sure I agree with yours there are ways to experiment with different systems and try them out - much like New York and Maine have quite different free college programs in place in their new budgets. But their not as essential as you may think either - the G.I. Bill has very few actual limits like that- yet it returns 7 dollars in taxes for every dollar ever spent on it. There are very few things the government can do with our tax dollars t

            • One flaw with your analysis. The number of people with the ability to get a degree but don't solely because they can't afford tuition who then work minimum wage jobs for the rest of their lives is so incredibly small as to be inconsequential at the macro level. People who are capable of getting a degree are capable of doing work above the minimum wage level, usually much above. Besides, getting a degree doesn't automatically mean you are going to get a decent job. I know developers without degrees that m
              • That may well be true of America, and it would reduce the ROI there somewhat - though things like MinCome study results (the number one reason young people on UBI dropped out of the workforce was to pursue further study they couldn't previously afford) gives me some doubt.

                It's decidedly not true in South Africa where I did the analysis in light of the current huge demand and protests for free higher education. Here, it probably applies to at least 80% of the people who could potentially get a degree. Becaus

          • I think Germany does something like this.

            Most of european continent is doing it like this : CH is another example.

            So that admission is based on ability

            That's the only slightly controversial subject.
            - In some countries you need to take a special admission exam, meaning that (richer) students that can afford to spend some time and money on preparatory class are at an advantage compared to (poorer) students that can only afford to directly go to the exam right after school.
            (Though there it's not a separate test, but a special test at the end of high-school, France is a well-known offend

      • I don't know, buying myself a doctor for a few bucks a month is a pretty good investment if you ask me.

  • Most graduate students get at least some amount of grand money from state and or federal as well as from the university itself. Mostly they tend to serve as TA's if not teaching the classes themselves. So make contribution to a open source books mandatory. Make them write and revise the very textbooks their university uses. They do at least partially teach/tutor other students so they are relatively well informed as to how to improve the material as far as how the class is taught.

    Also by using open source b

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Thursday April 20, 2017 @12:33AM (#54267651)

    "I've switched to publishing my books under the GPL."

    "Oh, they're free?"

    "No, the FSF says I can charge as much as I wish. Free as in speech, not beer."

    "But at least you include the source?"

    "Of course! Each copy includes its own text. It's tucked between the covers."

    • That would be rather stupid, as I'd bet good money that some student would get it scanned within days and start distributing copies (which would be completely okay by the terms of the GPL) and the original printer would lose a ton of goodwill.

      Moreover, "open source" typically implies "readily editable by those with the right tools" so that it can be rapidly enhanced through collaboration. Which for textbooks probably means LaTeX, though something more like a .doc file might also get used.

      • The GPL defines source code as the preferred representation for changing the program or whatever. I'd imagine the LaTeX or whatever source would be the preferred method, and therefore if you distribute printed textbooks like that you need to either supply the LaTeX file with the book or have a written offer to supply it.

        • Only if it's a collaborative project and one of the collaborators objects. I'm free to distribute only the binaries to my own program under the GPL - as the copyright holder *I'm* not bound by the license, only everyone else. It'd be a jerk move, but legally fine. In which case the GPL would pretty much just grant you rights to resource modification, decompiling, etc.

          For a book, where the only "source code" could well be a typewritten or even hand-drawn manuscript, there could be considerable room for ar

  • by ogdenk ( 712300 ) on Thursday April 20, 2017 @12:46AM (#54267679)

    We use open source physics textbooks where I attend and it actually works out pretty well. The books are pretty well-written. The PDF versions are free, the dead-tree edition is like $100. The one-time key for the online assignments is like $40. At the end of the day, other than tuition I only had to spend $40. Pretty awesome idea if you ask me.... the rest of my classes require books ranging from $120 to $400.

    The college book publishing racket has to end.

    The additional amusement watching retarded millennial kids who never learned to use a real computer and are too cheap to buy a tablet trying to use the eBook version as well as complete assignments on their phones is priceless as well. I've seen people trying to write papers on phones recently. They'd rather fumble with a $600 phone than spend $100 on a used laptop. Boggles the mind.

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday April 20, 2017 @04:21AM (#54268137)

      So to be clear, you had to pay $40 to do an assignment on top of your existing crippling student fees and you say this is a good outcome?

      Am I strange that I went through university where textbooks were set, taught from, but I was able to do all assigned assessment and course work without additional expense? I mean it's one thing to suggest people read from certain books to advance themselves, but it's quite another to require students to pay for sitting assessments (isn't that what the damn college fees are for in the first place?)

      • Well, I'm not exactly in favor of such models either, but I would note in the U.S. at least that it's been quite common to bundle "workbooks" or other such course materials with textbooks for decades. Some instructors make heavy use of them, and by themselves they've often cost ~$40 in the past. In this case, apparently students can forego the $100 textbook and just pay for the "online workbook" equivalent for $40, instead of what students would do 15 years ago and have to buy the $140 textbook/workbook c

      • by dostert ( 761476 )
        As a professor who uses open source textbooks (OpenStax Precalculus, specifically), the homework cost (Webassign at $33.95) is actually something that greatly benefits "good" students. They can have virtually unlimited practice problems, with solutions, through the online homework system. The vast majority of students prefer online homework to the old "do this on paper, turn it in, get back next class and hope I did it correctly" style. They can immediately see when they get a problem incorrect, then can co
        • the homework cost (Webassign at $33.95) is actually something that greatly benefits "good" students

          I'm not arguing against additional study. I would be a hypocrite if I did given that I always bought the additional workbooks to go with textbooks I used.

          I'm against mandated additional expense in order to get materials required to pass the course. I just paid thousands of dollars for a subject. Surely the professor can either come up with an assignment problem that isn't "do assignment in the textbook", or the school can fund access to that platform. I actually had this in one of the business school subjec

      • by ogdenk ( 712300 )

        I agree but if the $40 helps keep the project producing the open source textbooks going and keeps the infrastructure providing the online assignments up and running I'm not nearly as pissed about it. The online assignments are far less obnoxious than paper and give instantaneous feedback and I at least get the book for free if I don't mind staring at a screen to read it.

        Ideally I think the school should cover it but it probably isn't going to happen yet. I'm much happier spending $40 than $400. It's not

  • What matters the most here is if the multiple universities begin to cooperate in their creation of textbooks. If they decide "I can't work with them" or "We should have our own!" then you are going to see the effort quickly stagnate because the effort required to make and revise these books is no small thing and each university will not have the expertise needed to create the books for every subject in the depth that is expected.

  • Wow you people are very luck. I live in India []
  • So let's see... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday April 20, 2017 @01:22AM (#54267763)

    Sure, textbooks are expensive. But how much are kids paying for textbooks each year versus how much tuition they're paying into the state's coffers annually?

    If the states really want to lower the costs of college... they should drop tuition costs instead of raising them 20-30% every year or two.

  • The problem right now is the entity selecting the textbook (the school/professor) is not the entity paying for the textbook (the student). Since the schools aren't the ones paying for the textbooks, they don't give a damn how much they cost.

    Just pass a law requiring schools include the textbook(s) in the price of taking the course (included with tuition). Do that and you'll see schools tripping over themselves to cut textbook costs in every and any way possible.
    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      Your suggestion makes no sense. The universities don't pay tuition either. You're hiding the cost, but you're not removing it from the student.

      • Tuition costs are publicized. It's very easy to hit Google or any number of dead tree sources and get tuition comparisons. What's harder to find are all the add-ons that comprise almost half the cost.

        • Ps: my school does include books and other materials in the tuition cost. I spend maybe $50- $100 every other semester to get a supplementary source that I choose on my own. For example, the final exam for my networking class was the Cisco CCNA exam, so in addtion to the book and video series provided by the school, I went down to Half Price Books and spent $15 or so on a different kind of CCNA book.

          • Are they in an open format that you get to keep a permanent copy of if you wish? Or, ff you decide not to keep them, can you sell them to someone else?

            • Most of the video series have a download link. Two of my classes have used CBT Nuggets, if you're familiar with that company.

              Most of the books are Vitalsource Bookshelf, which gives you access via your computer, phone, and tablet. That seems to be permanent access. You download the book to your phone and open it in the app. I would guess that you could also save them just like any other web page (at least the browser-based version), but I haven't tried. I don't think you can't sell them, but then again you

    • Ohio's governor has suggested this, capping textbook costs at $300 per semester. Colleges are fighting it. []
  • established textbook publishing monopolies that feel they are entitled to live richly off the backs of broke college students.

  • Textbooks are expensive, and should definitely be dealt with, if we want our country's future generations to be able to achieve higher education, but the real killer is tuition. While I was an in-state student, I saw my tuition quadruple from when I started in 1997, to when I finished my second degree in 2003. I did not receive 4x the education value for that additional price, nor were the facilities significantly upgraded. I never really knew why my tuition kept going up and up, until I read this article.
  • Shouldn't colleges develop and own their own text books as a regular part of offering a class or curriculum? That should be the value you receive from higher education, not having a TA read a mass market book to you for two hours a week.
  • This was a NO BRAINER. The only reason this wasn't initiated ages ago was due to all the backroom deals.

  • TFA says "copyright free".

    That's wrong. The materials will not be free of copyright. The authors that create the materials will have a copyright. Just like all authors of open source code have a copyright in that code. What makes open source open is that those authors choose to license their copyright rights to anyone under terms that effectively make it open for all to run, use, copy, study, modify and distribute the code. Similarly, these open course materials authors would have to license their w
  • Since the recurring gripe regarding the cost of textbooks seems to center around the fact that a "new" version is required every fucking semester, which artificially inflates the textbook costs, I propose a rather simple solution. Institutions are not allowed to enforce a new textbook requirement unless the actual curriculum changes by a significant amount.

    In other words, still teaching the exact same shit you were teaching 10 years ago in that English course? Then the exact same 10-year old textbook shou

  • If the states are serious about this, they should pay good salaries to teams of professors, editors, graphic designers, etc... to create high quality material that they then provide by open access. The current open access textbooks available in my field (neuroscience & psychology) are horrible. This would save the students significant money, but would cost the states more. Otherwise, this is just a combination of talk and trying to get people to do work for free.

    • by akakaak ( 512725 )

      And this can't be a one-time deal. In my field anyway (neuroscience & psychology) there is a legitimate need for revisions every few years as the science is progressing quickly.

  • For middle and high school students, the cost of one textbook can cover about an entire class worth of reading material to be print and bound. The era of keeping and reusing hardcover textbooks year after year is pretty much over, and the kids get to keep their text after they are done with the class. After all, this makes perfect sense, as why would you teach them and then expect that the learning materials be returned? Better that they can keep it for use as a reference as they go forward in school.

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