Open source options

It is no secret that the cost of a university education is skyrocketing, and the simultaneous rising cost of textbooks only puts more financial strain on students.

In order to ease the weight of these costs, some professors have made the switch to using open source textbooks and resources instead of requiring publisher-distributed textbooks.

What makes textbooks and course materials so expensive? According to an analysis conducted by the National Association of College Stores in 2013, 78 percent of the cost of a new textbook is put toward wholesale costs. Those costs include paper and printing, as well as the publisher’s administrative costs and author’s income. Only 22-percent goes to the college bookstore for operation costs, such as overhead, maintenance, salaries and freight expenses.

To help combat the expense of textbooks, WU’s bookstore, the Ichabod Shop, has created options for students, including the expansion of a rental program. Sara Unruh, a course materials coordinator at the Ichabod Shop, said to use the in store rental program by looking for neon green shelf tags and stickers on the textbooks.

“[Rental] prices are a fraction of the new/used prices,” said Unruh.

The bookstore has also developed a rental program through an affiliate company called Rafter.

“When you shop online at our website and you are searching for your textbooks, there is a box with comparison prices and you can often find a Rafter rental there,” said Unruh. “Also, shop directly at Rafter’s site to see if your book is available for rent.”

Some professors and students believe that open source textbooks can be an even more viable option. These materials are distributed online in various formats for public use. Because they are published under an open copyright license, they can be purchased and downloaded inexpensively. Some are even available for free.

Margaret Wood, WU professor of anthropology and the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning, recently recommended the use of open source textbooks to campus faculty.

She sees open source textbooks as a tremendous opportunity for both faculty and students. For students, open source textbooks would greatly reduce expense.

“Textbooks are extremely expensive,” said Wood.

Wood encourages professors to consider the use of open source materials because of the flexibility that they offer. She recently welcomed open source textbooks into her own teaching method and has found they are more dynamic and that they can maximize the classroom experience.

As for changes in the content of class, open source textbooks radically broaden the resource options. Open source materials allow professors to use videos, articles, and examples from multiple authors and credible sources.

Wood recognizes that classes like anthropology have a bit more elasticity in the area of course content and that classes in other departments may not have the luxury of being able to use open source texts. However, she sees open source textbooks as an overall positive option.

“As a university, this is something we can do to provide access to those who might otherwise have that as a barrier,” said Wood.

The use of open source textbooks is increasing, though many students and faculty still prefer the traditional use of texts and likely will for some time. And though some texts and course materials are easily available through open source resources, many professors will continue to use the traditional method of adopting materials through the bookstore. At this point it is still easier to house all course materials and their information in the bookstore for a one-stop shopping experience. The bookstore also uses verified distributers to obtain fresh materials such as workbooks.

“I think the effect on the textbook market as a whole will be very slow to show,” said Unruh. “Students generally still like to have physical copies of books to study from. Not every student has a personal computer with the capacity to download large open source textbook content.”

It will likely be quite some time before universities switch to using predominantly online source materials. The shift from traditional texts to open source will not be immediate, but rather will happen gradually over this time of technological revolution in education.

In conclusion, open source textbooks continue to be an effective alternative option in substitution of the traditional textbook as they provide benefits to both students and professors in the classroom experience.