The Open Course Library & the Quest for the $30 College Textbook

Cheap Textbooks in StillwaterMany state legislatures are looking at ways to address the skyrocketing price-tag of college at a time of shrinking budgets. To that end, earlier this year the state of Washington set aside $750,000 for a new initiative to tackle one aspect of the higher ed financial burden -- the cost of textbooks.

With help from matching funds from the Gates Foundation, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges has built aOpen Course Library (OCL), which launches today. The idea behind the library is to address the increasing cost of textbooks by making openly licensed course materials available for 81 of the state's most enrolled classes. Some of the materials in the OCL are free, but some aren't. The only stipulation: no required material or textbook can cost a student more than $30.

The first phase of the project, which is available today, features materials for 42 of these classes, including Introduction to Literature, Introduction to Chemistry, Calculus I, and Microeconomics. (The other 39 should come online in the Spring of 2013).

The courses were designed by select faculty, who were asked to use existing open educational resources and "fill the gaps" with their own materials. As a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year noted, this has been more of a challenge than initially expected. "[I]nstructors in this group were annoyed with the assumption that it's just a matter of plucking ripe fruit off the Internet tree. They said they had been surprised to discover how few open-source sites cater to students who struggle with basic math, which describes many at the community-college level." And meeting that $30 limit is difficult for many courses too, not just in the sciences -- a field with notoriously expensive textbooks -- but in literature and philosophy where the cost of primary texts can quickly add up.

As the materials in the OCL are licensed CC-BY, instructors will be able to adopt the course modules or adapt the materials to suit their own classes' needs. The materials are available via Google Docs and Google Sites so that they can be shared between faculty and institutions, but there are also options to import the content into standard LMSes.

Photo credits: Wesley Fryer

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