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 Why should we be content with static, rapidly outdated, heavy print textbooks that can cost community college students as much as their tuition, when professors and students can work together to create dynamic,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


The Future Is Hopeless, So Give it Your All

The never-ending national election in the United States, the “surprise” pro-Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, climate change … the list goes on and on about how easy it can be to lose hope in the future.Like many of life’s frustrations, or overwhelmingly large topics, most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the […] Read More

How Carbon Farming Can Save the Planet

Carbon farming alone is not enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, but coupled with new economic priorities, a massive switch to clean energy, and big changes to much of the rest of the way our societies work, it offers a pathway out of destruction and a route to hope.Along the way carbon farming can also […] Read More

Look Under Your Feet for Global Soil-utions

For several years, Chelsea Green has been publishing books that look under our feet for solutions to some of the most vexing problems facing the planet – hunger, drought, degraded farmland and grasslands, damaged waterways, and much more. Those books focus on (mostly) one thing: Soil.  In 2016, we’ve published two more important books that […] Read More

Climate Change & the End of Stationarity

Just as predicting the rise of Donald Trump as a leading presidential candidate stumped even the best of political analysts (looking at you Nate “FiveThirtyEight” Silver), the advent of the Sixth Great Extinction due to climate change and an increasingly potent mix of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has completely upended how we predict the […] Read More

Use Simple Games to Better Understand Climate Change

How is it that emissions keep growing despite rising concern about the climate change they cause? It is possible to identify several reasons for the paradox, most of which lie outside the scope of The Climate Change Playbook. But one important reason is relevant here: people do not understand the behaviors of the climate system.And […] Read More
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