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Backgrounder

Open educational resources are growing in mainstream importance as decreasing education budgets, at both a federal and state level, could have a devastating effect on how our future students will learn and the quality of their education.  The economic shortfalls that are occurring at both a state and federal level are driving initiatives to find better, more impactful and less costly alternatives to published materials.

President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative (AGI)[1], which is incorporated into the “Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act,” passed by the House in 2009, would provide $12 billion over the next 10 years, to improve community colleges and help students to complete a college degree. The AGI is intended to support progress toward achievement of the President’s overarching goal, to have the United States, once again, be first in the world by 2020, in having the “highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

Included in the AGI is a proposal by President Obama to invest $500 million over the next ten years to develop the highest quality free online open source high school and college courses and curricula including open textbooks that will be available to all 24/7/365.

What is an “Open Textbook”?

According to Wikipedia, an open textbook is an openly-licensed textbook offered online by its author(s). The open license sets open textbooks apart from traditional textbooks by allowing users to read online, download, or print the book at no additional cost.[2]    For a textbook to be considered open, it must be licensed in a way that grants a baseline set of rights to users that are less restrictive than its standard copyright.  A license or list of permissions must be clearly stated by the author.

The definition of “open textbook” is changing as the knowledge revolution evolves and grows.  What is known is that it must be:

  • easy to use, get and pass around,
  • editable so instructors can customize content,
  • cross-platform compatible,
  • printable,
  • and accessible so it works with adaptive technology.

Challenges of “Open Textbooks”

With the growing diversity of the US student population, there is a growing need to localize and customize the learning resources to fit this audience and its ever-changing demographic. As the world of open textbooks become more of a reality, one of the biggest challenges will be how best to determine the quality of the content that is available.  Creating educational standards for curricula areas, peer review of materials and creating high-quality supplemental course materials are just examples of tools that will be used for selecting and publishing content that will add value to the education process. 

Introducing College Open Textbooks Collaborative

Funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in August 2009, the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative (CollegeOpenTextbooks.org) isa collection of colleges, governmental agencies, educational nonprofits, and other education-related organizations.The collaborative provides training for instructors adopting open resources, peer reviews of open textbooks, an online professional network, support for authors opening their resources, and other services. 

The formation of the Collaborative coincides with the growing international interest in open educational resources and the need to move to open digital textbooks as a way to help financially distressed states such as California reduce the cost of public education.


The Collaborative’s academic partners include Foothill College, De Anza College, Rice University's Connexions, the California-based Faculty Collaborations for Course Transformations program, the Florida Distance Learning Consortium, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) and the League for Innovation in the Community College.  Other member organizations include the Community College Open Education Resources, Connexions, Happy About, Inc., MERLOT, Open Education Resources Center for California, Dynamic Books, and Words & Numbers.


The focus of these efforts could save students millions of dollars by increasing the number of open high-quality textbooks available online as alternatives to expensive printed textbooks sold by publishers. Key highlights of the initiative include:

 

  • A campaign to raise the awareness about open textbooks among community college instructors, students and authors as well as to state legislators.
  • Increasing the role of advocacy by providing online and peer communities that will provide “Train the Trainer” programs and a repository of reusable training and marketing materials for them to use in their roles as evangelists and advocates at their colleges.
  • Increase the use of open textbook adoptions in key disciplines such as math.
  • Create an easy-to-use central repository for toolsets that can be shared amongst the peer communities and initiatives created to promote and support open textbook adoption.

College Open Textbooks has already peer-reviewed several new open textbooks for use in community college courses and identified more than 250 others for consideration. Open textbooks are freely available for use without restriction and can be downloaded or printed from web sites and repositories.

The core team for College Open Textbooks includes Dr. Judy Baker, Jacky Hood, Una Daly, Bill Buxton, and Mitchell Levy.  To join the Ning Communities supported by this initiative, go to: http://collegeopentextbooks.ning.com/and  http://opentextbookadvocatetrainers.ning.com/

Additional resources online:

There is a wealth of information on the trends, benefits, and adoption patterns of states adopting open textbooks. Here's just a select set of URLs to review:

Chancellor's Office Textbook Affordability web pages:
http://www.cccco.edu/ChancellorsOffice/Divisions/StudentServices/TextbookAffordability/tabid/1625/Default.aspx

CSU Affordable Learning Solutions:
http://als.csuprojects.org/home
http://als.csuprojects.org/free-textbooks

CUNY Textbook Savings:
http://portal.cuny.edu/cms/id/cuny/documents/informationpage/030788.htm

Also see Overview of Public Policy:
http://publius.cc/brief_overview_us_public_policy_oer_californias_community_colleges_obama_ad

An excellent summary of state initiatives and inter-state cooperation can be found at http://www.oncoreblueprint.org

WikiEducator: an international community of educators collaborating on the development of free teaching materials in support of all national curricula by 2015    http://wikieducator.org

Footnotes:

 

pedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_textbook#cite_note-0