Editorial: To combat costs, some universities are moving to open-source textbooks
College students are no strangers to shelling out hundreds of dollars for textbooks every semester. Even thrifty students find that used books will cost them greatly if they're lucky enough to be able to get them. Students who are required to have "UConn editions" or "new editions" of books often see their bank accounts dwindle at the beginning of the semester. Often many students forgo purchasing textbooks or prowl around for an illicit online edition.
The University of Maryland opted for a different solution. This year, they debuted open-source books for several classes. These textbooks take non-copyrighted material and combine it to create a textbook on the subject. The Baltimore Sun reported that this venture "is saving 1,100 students a combined $130,000." Students support the idea, as textbook costs have only risen over the past years.
However, opponents of the idea note that professors and publishers will lose out, with royalties reduced and number of textbooks down. Bookstores, especially university bookstores, will no longer receive profits from the sale of these textbooks as well. It is important to note that the problem with higher cost textbooks has lead to the sale of used books or not purchasing books at all--scenarios that have already hurt these parties.
It is admirable that the University of Maryland has made these efforts to reduce textbook costs. While universities should certainly consider adopting similar properties, many classes require textbooks, books or novels that cannot be replaced by free material. Despite this, the pilot program begun this semester offers a change on how material is taught. The books incorporate interactive tools and links to more material on the subject in questions. This allows students to continue to explore the topic if they are interested.
Programs like this have been started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California State University system, and the Washington State college system where libraries of free online materials can be found. Despite the fact the fact that these programs have not become widespread, programs like these have the opportunity to promote digital learning, new education methods and student interests.
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