Open Academics Textbook Catalog (Nicole Allen, David Ernst)

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Robert Farrow
16 October 2012

The increasing cost of higher education threatens to limit access to education for many students. One significant higher education cost is textbooks. In the last 30 years,textbook prices have risen almost four times the rate of inflation. Students pay an average of $1,168 per year on textbooks, and seven out of ten students report that they hadn’t bought a required text due to cost.

Reducing textbook costs could improve college access and affordability, while not impacting the resources of institutions of higher education.
Open textbooks are textbooks licensed with a Creative Commons or similar open license. Open textbooks provide more affordable textbook options for students, and allow faculty to create more customized textbooks for their courses.

Yet the faculty adoption of open textbooks is not yet widespread. To increase adoption, two main barriers must be overcome:

(1) Open textbooks are hard to find.

Open textbooks are located in various locations on the Internet. Many are located in large online libraries of open education resources (OER). These libraries are comprehensive, including open textbooks, but also many, many other OERs. This abundance of resources can make it challenging for faculty to find full textbooks.

(2) It’s difficult to know which open textbooks are quality.

Determining the quality of any educational resource can be challenging, and open textbooks are no different. Commercial textbook companies often capture and advertise recommendations from faculty when marketing a textbook, giving it credibility. But open textbook authors are often not as skilled or motivated to brag about the quality of their textbook.

These barriers can be significantly addressed through the creation of an online, peer-reviewed open textbook catalog. This searchable catalog will contain only complete open textbooks, and include textbook reviews from faculty.

Working with the national Student PIRG, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) has developed such a catalog.

The online catalog is a first of its kind and has become a resource for finding quality open textbooks. It includes pointers to textbooks that are openly licensed complete textbooks. Faculty looking for an open textbook can read peer-reviews of texts and be directed to the texts themselves for their own evaluation. When a faculty member adopts a textbook from the catalog, students will have options to choose a free electronic version of the textbook, or purchase a low-cost print version (the majority of students prefer printed textbooks to electronic).
This catalog has uniquely addressed the barriers of faculty adoption of open textbooks by providing a single place for faculty to find and determine the quality of open textbooks. In this presentation, we will report on the number of University of Minnesota faculty and students who have benefited from this catalog and describe the potential cost savings seen by students. In addition, we will report on metrics of use of the catalog by those outside the University of Minnesota.

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