Writing about the rising costs of textbooks here would be a classic case of preaching to the choir. So I will not waste time rehashing what you all know and will instead jump right to what we hope will be a valuable contribution to the efforts of this site and the OER community to provide cost-free textbook alternatives to students: the Saylor Open Textbook Challenge.
The challenge aims to license open texts for over 200 courses currently residing on Saylor.org used in twelve of the most popular college majors enrolled in by U.S. students. Before we delve into some details of the Challenge, let me give you some background on our Foundation.
The Saylor Foundation is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization working to drive the cost of higher education to zero. Working with over 150+ credentialed professors and peer-reviewers from higher-education institutions, we are compiling open-licensed course content styled after a traditional academic program.
In deciding which courses to offer, Saylor first devoted resources to develop courses that would fit under traditional college majors in popular, high-enrollment areas of study. We then engaged professor consultants to build course blueprints to fill out the majors. These courses are designed to route a student through the material he or she would need to know in order to earn credit from an accredited institution in the U.S.
The Saylor OER Approach:
We decided that we could best make a unique contribution to the OER movement by developing a structured content aggregation and curation process, by which our professor consultants seek, vet, frame, and—where appropriate—add to existing resources in order to yield complete courses, hosted on a central site and tied to user outcomes, assessments, and predefined learning taxonomies. Each course is also peer reviewed for further fine tuning.
Importantly, in addition to utilizing OER materials, we decided to include and link to copyrighted materials in our content aggregation process. Through our Permissions Initiative, many copyright holders are allowing us to host their materials on the site within the relevant course context. When permission to host is NOT granted (and when OERs do not exist), we work to paper over the gaps in each course and/or replace the linked resources by stimulating the development of original content and the Creative Commons re-licensing of complete and newly open texts.
Back to the Open Text Book Challenge:
To spur authors to openly license their work, the Saylor Foundation will offer a $20,000 award for submitted textbooks accepted for use in our course materials after a round of peer reviews. To be eligible for the award, the author(s) must agree to license the text under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY) license. We plan to formally launch the Challenge just after Labor Day so please visit our site at that time and keep your eyes out for more information. If you have questions or suggestions, please comment below – we would love to hear your thoughts!