Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Free or low cost online textbooks

The cost of textbooks is not reducing: nor is the quality increasing. I recently assigned a text to a course from a large education publisher. When the text arrived, I was unpleasantly surprised by the low print quality, the poor paper stock quality and the lack of proofing (there were multiple errors). The book was also expensive, and took a very long time to arrive (although the delivery delay was largely due to Covid-19, it was complicated by the fact that the publisher had very little stock).

When we stop to consider that academics research and write the material while being paid by their - often government funded - tertiary institution, then they get a pittance from the publisher, the decrease in quality and the rise in price is rather alarming. I suspect that the increased margins are not ending up in academics' pockets.


It is also difficult to find a text which will work for an entire course, or which meets our course learning outcomes. Often texts may be too long, have too much cross-over with other courses, or have chapters which simply don't fit our context. At times it would be ideal to cherry pick a range of chapters from a range of authors - but this is usually either impossible due to copyright, or prohibitively expensive.


However, there are some alternatives. Firstly, we can go for free, downloadable pdf textbooks, such as those available at the Center for Open Education (2020), here. Expense is not a factor when cherry picking a range of chapters from a number of authors. While the list of authors and topics is limited, a good pick through can usually find most of the information you need if you are setting up a business course (there are not enough yet for career courses, sadly).


We might reasonably think that a free pdf text is worth the price we paid for it! However, what is really interesting about the free texts is the reasons why and how those books have ended up being listed. Steven Krause has a very interesting story to tell about how his text ended up being freely available, which you can read here (2007). 


Secondly, there are also some texts which can be used if we pay a nominal fee at Flatworld Knowledge (2020), here.


We still have a tendency to assume that a single textbook will meet all our needs, without considering other options. Granted, other options might be more complex, but they also might reduce cost for us all. 


And we might want to think about writing our own textbook, and making it freely - or reasonably - available, using one of these platforms :-) 



Sam


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