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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 Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic,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.


Why Modern Wheat Is Making Us Sick

Why is modern wheat making us sick?  That’s the question posed by author Eli Rogosa in her new book Restoring Heritage Grains.Wheat is the most widely grown crop on our planet, yet industrial breeders have transformed this ancient staff of life into a commodity of yield and profit—witness the increase in gluten intolerance and ‘wheat […] Read More

A Dictionary to Survive the Future

When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left behind his great unpublished work, a masterpiece more than thirty years in the making—an intellectually evocative and inspiring dictionary, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It. In it, Fleming examined the consequences of an economy that destroys the very foundations—ecological, […] Read More

Michael Ableman’s 15-Point Urban Food Manifesto

What if farms and food production were integrated into every aspect of urban living—from special assessments to create new farms and food businesses to teaching people how to grow fruits and vegetables so farmers can focus on staple crops.That’s the crux of Michael Ableman’s Urban Food Manifesto, which has been ten years in the making […] Read More

Q&A with Michael Ableman: How Urban Farming Can Improve Society

Street Farm is the inspirational account of residents in the notorious Low Track in Vancouver, British Columbia who joined together to create an urban farm as a means of addressing the chronic problems in their neighborhood.Street Farm is a story of recovery, of land and food, of people, and of the power of farming and nourishing […] Read More

Overshoot, Collapse, and Creating a Better Future

In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More
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