Thursday, December 1, 2011

Washington state unveils Open Course Library

Community, technical colleges benefit from grant for free textbooks

By Nick Neely, News Reporter

October is well known for free candy. However, this October, Washington state initiated a grant to give community and technical college students free textbooks.

“The problem we were trying to solve going into this was the high costs of textbook,” Director of Open Course Library Tom Caswell said.

The Open Course Library offers more than free textbooks. Many professors in technical and community colleges are required to teach a class, with which they have little experience, on short notice. Open-course provides these professors with an entire course with free “high quality” materials, Caswell said.

The Open Course Library was funded by the Washington State Legislature and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a release by the State Board for Community & Technical College.

The cost of producing these open courses was estimated at $1.18 million, according to a report by Textbook Advocate Nicole Allen.

The same report also estimated savings of $1.26 million due to the Open Course Library. The report projected a savings of $41.6 million a year if it was adopted by every community and technical college in Washington.

The Open Course Library will provide text books for 81 high-enrolling courses. These 81 courses represent more than 80 percent of classes community and technical students enroll in, Caswell said. Forty two have been completed so far, according to the SBCTC release.

Although this project is funded by Washington state Legislature, Caswell said he wants to see the program grow beyond Washington.

“We really are designing this with the needs of Washington state colleges in mind … but at the same time we’re building it in such away it cuts across state borders and even international borders,” Caswell said.

Open-source materials have been adopted by colleges in Oregon, New York and even Romania, Caswell said.

“We’ve got the city of San Paulo, Brazil very seriously considering translating all the materials and using it in their technical colleges systems,” Caswell said. “We are happy to share this material with everyone and anyone.”

This includes four-year universities.

The materials will be hosted on the site Creative Commons. This ensures that the materials remain free and accessible after the end of the bill that created the Open Course Library.

“We’re looking for ways to extend this after the grant period,” Caswell said.

Students sometimes still need to buy materials for open course classes. The price cap for required materials is $30 for any open course class. 26 of the 41 courses had no costs attached to them, Caswell said.

“We didn’t slam the door on the publishers in this effort, we’ve had some really great cooperation with some of your publishers,” Caswell wsaid. “Because we set the cap at $30, that opened the possibility for publishers to get on board.”

Caswell said that even with $30 costs, the audience that open course provides is enough to sustain a different form of textbook marketing.