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California Pushes for Free Digital Open (College) Textbooks

Interesting press release making the rounds today.

There’s a new bill before the Calif. state legislature this week (one of many). California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg is proposing that Calif. fund a new program to create an Open Educational Resources (OER) in California. The end goal would be to offer college students free access to textbooks for 50 core undergraduate classes.

The digital textbooks would be available for free online, and the print edition is expected to cost around $20.

"There’s a clarion call from students and middle class families to make higher education more accessible and affordable," said Steinberg. "Open source digital textbooks can bring real relief of nearly $1,000 a year to each college student."

The legislation would fund a competitive process where textbook authors are invited to submit their work for review. Subject matter experts will go over each submission and confirm that they meet the rigorous standards of college curricula.

I’m actually torn on how to report about this story. Yes, I support open source digital textbooks, and I am all for saving college students money (alcohol is expensive). But I also have to ask what took Calif. so long?

You see, the state of California has had a similar program for high school textbooks since early 2009. It’s called California Free Digital Textbook Initiative, and the goal was to identify open source textbooks that met state requirements.That program has now hit Phase 3, and it covers core classes in high school, including math, science, economics, history, and government.

Wouldn’t you have expected that digital textbook program to have been expanded to include college textbooks? I did, but perhaps I expected too much. The criteria and procedures for choosing high school and college textbooks are probably too different for the one program to cover both.

In any case, I think the Calif. program is too small. I’d much rather see it be expanded to cover nearly all textbooks, especially the ones that publishers needlessly revise every 2 years. (Yes, I’m still annoyed about the money they cost me years ago.)

But when the California program does launch, it might function similar to the Open Course Library, a digital initiative sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the state of Washington. This is a public repository with a mixed collection of free and cheap digital textbooks. It has material for 42 courses now, with plans to expand. 39 more classes will be added in Phase 2, which is due to start next month.

California Free Digital Textbook Initiative

Open Course Library

image by truds09

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