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Anya Kamenetz: The Real Cost of College Textbooks

This article originally appeared in the New York Times. The high cost of textbooks isn’t a technological problem to be solved by digital distribution; it’s a business model problem. With students as a captive market, textbooks are the last big cash cow for conventional publishers. It’s no coincidence that Pearson, the largest educational publisher, is the largest English language publisher, period.

 

 

How to deal with “the Hummer of higher education.”
But textbooks, with or without the bundled DVDs, are what Judy Baker, of the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, calls “The Hummer of higher education.” Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic, rich-media learning environments instead using free and open source software tools? You can find examples at Wikieducator or UMW Blogs. Teaching without textbooks means teaching students to think critically, evaluate various sources of information, and draw their own conclusions — critical 21st century liberal arts skills. Good professors could put together stellar college courses from the material on Wikipedia and YouTube, but they don’t have to. Learners can draw on a growing trove of materials like TED Talks, the Internet Archive, Europeana, and of course those created expressly for education at the Open Courseware Consortium or the Open Learning Initiative. These are all high quality, of known provenance, and did I mention free? Some professors are rushing to teach without textbooks, while others are less eager or simply like the convenience of a basic written guide to a topic. Luckily, there is a great transitional model: Flatworld Knowledge. Flatworld Knowledge commissions expert authors to produce textbooks that are free to read online and available in a variety of formats for costs that average just $18 per student per semester, 82 percent cheaper than traditional textbooks. Most important, because they’re Creative Commons-licensed, educators and potentially students can customize the texts for each class in which they’re adopted–cutting, adding, or remixing material to use only what they need. Goodbye, Hummer — hello, hybrid Zipcar. Anya Kamenetz is the author of DIY U, Edupunks Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, available in our bookstore.


10 Books to Curl Up With This Winter

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading […] Read More..

Top 8 Chelsea Green Books the Self-Styled Oregon Militia Should Read

The ongoing armed militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is showing no signs of ending — so, rather than send them snacks, or sex toys, we had an idea: Send them a book! Better yet, send them several Chelsea Green books. Don’t worry, we’ve picked five key titles that we think […] Read More..

Author David Stroh: First Steps to Becoming a Systems Thinker

Systems thinking is often seen as something relegated to scientific and business analysis – economics, resource depletion, and climate. However, Systems Thinking for Social Change focuses on how to use systems thinking to make breakthrough progress on intransigent social problems. We asked author David Stroh how this approach can make an impact, and how readers […] Read More..

Use Systems Thinking to Make Lasting Social Change

What can be done when our best intentions create unintended problems—such as temporary shelters increasing homelessness or food aid accelerating starvation?After decades of helping change-makers in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors address tough social problems, systems-thinking expert David Stroh shares the pioneering framework that both demystifies systems thinking and shows how it can lead […] Read More..

Let’s Make Bernie Sanders a Bestseller!

As the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders continues to climb in the polls, crushing online fundraising records and frustrating party insiders and pundits along the way, we’re looking to put Bernie’s message on bestseller lists everywhere in time for the national debates this fall!With the second Democratic debate to be held on November 14th in Des Moines, it’s […] Read More..
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