Thursday, October 25, 2007

Open-content textbooks and the people's university

The CollegeBoard has released their annual study on the costs of higher education in the United States. It reports:

At public four-year institutions, in-state tuition and fees average $6,185, or $381 more than last year, a 6.6 percent increase. In 2007-08, average total charges (which include both room and board and tuition and fees), are $13,589, a 5.9 percent increase over last year.

This is the educational space occupied by our Land-Grant universites whose mission is all about providing educational opportunities. So what is the Land-Grant system doing to help combat the rise in the price of a higher education? With textbooks costing $500+ per semester they are adding in the neighborhood of $4000 to the cost of a college education.

There are several places where the costs could be trimmed if people would get creative. Getting behind open-textbooks seems like a no-brainer. Is there any reason why faculty can't be encouraged and rewarded to use open-content textbooks in their courses? How about rewarding faculty for contributing to open-content textbooks? How about supporting open-content as a core value of our public universities? Heck, it would cost universities next to nothing to support this movement. The technical infrastructure is already in place at Wikibooks to help make it happen.

Welcome to Wikibooks, a Wikimedia project that was started on July 10, 2003 with the mission to create a free collection of open-content textbooks that anyone can edit. Since our founding, volunteers have written about 27,247 modules in a multitude of textbooks.

What a wonderful and painless way for the Land-Grant universities to contribute back to the commons, increase their relevance, and regain their rightful spot as the "people's university".

3 comments:

Anne Adrian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne Adrian said...

Kevin,

You are so on right about this. Someone should be asking "Why are they so expensive?"

One hypothesis is that textbooks are being revised every 2 to 3 years. If there is a real need to revise them that often, why not write the book in format that can be easily updated?

I am wondering if the high costs of textbooks are also plaguing elementary and secondary schools.

How is it possible for poor rural schools to purchase books at $150 each? My daughter's high school Advanced Placement biology class uses the same textbook that our local state university uses for the first semester of biology. Her high school is adequately funded and supported locally--not so with most schools in our state. Public secondary schools do not have the funds for these kinds of books.

According to Chicago Tribune the average public university is $6100 per year. Now add a conservatively estimated $1000 per year for books. That's a 16% increase in the cost of an education.

Using wikis to write books makes so much sense. Obviously, the reduced costs to the consumer (the student) should be enough to drive for a change. The added benefit that the content becomes public should also drive land-grant schools to take this approach.

Peg said...

Kevin and Anne,

Among my big gripes about traditional textbooks (aside from the fact that I think adults should learn from primary sources rather than predigested summaries) is the often-dreadful quality of the writing and lack of thoughtful copyediting.

Wikis could solve the problem by having top-notch copy editors work collaboratively alongside the subject-matter specialists from the start.

Wikis could also solve the problem of the single, biased perspective most texts present. Collaborators, including current students, could add sidebars that present different points of view, suggest equally valid, but contrary, lines of research, and ask students to look at the subject through other eyes.

By the way, our state university, priciest in the nation, currently chrges residents $19,238 per year for tuition, room and board. Computer science majors and the chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental and mechanical engineering majors pay an extra tuition premium of $705.

The university suggests tacking on an additional $3500 for books, transportation and other expenses.