Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Open Source Textbook

Any of you who have ever served on the book committees of your k-12 schools know what a huge item this can be on your budget. Pick the wrong book and you are stuck with it for a long time before monies come available for your department again.

Any of us who ever attended college have experienced the sticker shock of buying our first set of textbooks. The cost of my books approached the cost of my tuition as an undergraduate.

As a student back in the 70s, a used bookstore opened in our college town, we flocked to it's cheaper prices. That bookstore mysteriously closed down after a year of brisk business. I was forced back to the higher priced college bookstore and was always suspicious of why that store closed. Sometimes I did without and tried to make do with the library copies. Understanding instructors tried to help out by picking cheaper books or putting a bunch of copies on reserve in the library.

The last few college courses I've taken have occured during the era of the internet and I've been able to get any books much cheaper. I heard of students going over the Mexican border and copying entire textbooks for themselves and their classmates. I also seem to remember some kids getting busted for scanning in their books and turning them into pdfs that could be shared with their peers. Advances in technology are coming. Access to the tools to easily copy or reproduce books are already here.

The way textbooks are distributed will change. The idea of textbooks online that you subscribe too instead of buy. Digital books that can be read by a device like Amazon's Kindle. Public domain books online. The change is happening right now. So, I found this article about an Open Source textbook fascinating. Virginia has released a physics textbook under a Creative Commons license. It was peer reviewed and put together in less than 6 months. It can be updated on a yearly basis and viewed online. And...the cost is much less than a traditional textbook.

I think radical change is going to come soon. The same kind of sudden change that came with digital music. I wonder if the textbook companies will be surfing that wave or be left sitting on the beach wet and obsolete?

[Image: Flickr: "revision/procrastination": Uploaded on March 26, 2008 by wenday :D: Creative Commons]

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