Online textbooks promoted as low-cost alternative

By Tania Cervantes
The Guardsman

The City College Textbook Affordability Task Force has launched a campaign to promote the use of free open-source textbooks for professors and students at the college.

Through a Creative Commons license, open textbooks are free of charge when downloaded from the Internet and are low cost when purchased in print.

“When looking for ways to make textbooks affordable, we came across free open textbooks,” Bookloan Coordinator and Task Force member Deena Samii said. “We want teachers to know that free textbooks are an option.”

Currently, there are over 450 community college textbooks online, ranging in subjects from mathematics to biology. Professors from various schools including New York University have reviewed some open textbooks.

Textbook advocate for CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, Nicole Allen, works with students to bring textbook campaigns to college campuses.

She said more than 2,000 professors have signed a statement of intent which means they will consider using open textbooks.

“The thing with open textbooks is that it empowers the faculty to customize the content in order to meet the students needs,” College Open Textbook Director Jackie Hood said.

Because open textbooks are licensed under Creative Commons they can be rearranged to better fit a curriculum. Chapters may be taken out, and depending on the license and format, books can be combined.

“The most that the Academic Senate can do is support the campaign, but it is ultimately up to the departments and professors,” City College Academic Senate President Hal Huntsman said. “We can encourage them, but we can’t make them do it.”

Professors may choose not to use an open textbook if they don’t consider it to be the best book.

“When you choose a book, it’s a big deal. The best book may be $500, but if I can find a good book for $75 then I might just choose that one,” Huntsman said. “But I cannot choose a book just because it’s free. I have to examine the content first.”

Hunstman, who is also a math instructor, said he has looked at some of the open books and found some that are good and some that are not so good.

Ultimately, it would be the professor’s task to examine the book and find those which can be used.

While there are many models to make the books free and affordable, the most common way has been through the use of grants, Hood said. Some professors have also written textbooks during their sabbatical.

“Change is never easy and the idea of open textbooks is new,” Huntsman said. “We just have to get the word out so professors know that these are real options and that there are some really good things.”

Several colleges have already incorporated open textbooks. California schools using them include Foothill College and De Anza College. Nationally, North Seattle Community College in Washington and St. Petersberg College in Florida have also integrated them.

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