Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Story idea: Profs call for free, affordable textbooks

Here's a story virtually any college newspaper could pick up: Two different groups are calling for free or affordable textbooks.

On Tuesday, the Student Public Interest Research Groups released a statement signed by 1,000 professors declaring their preference for "high-quality, affordable textbooks, including open textbooks, over expensive commercial textbooks." Professors representing more than 300 colleges in all 50 states signed the statement. To find out if any professors from your campus signed, click here.

Make Textbooks Affordable is a joint project of The Student PIRGs, Arizona Students Association and the California State Student Association, according to a press release on the campaign.

Last month Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, posted a public appeal to philanthropists to "liberate educational content." He encouraged them to sign an online petition that outlines his vision of a world where textbooks cost students nothing. Some 65 people had signed it as of this writing. (The letter focuses on K-12 textbooks, but the philosophy could easily be applied to college textbooks as well.)

Both efforts support "open textbooks," free, online, open-access textbooks with content that is licensed so that anyone can use, download, customize, or print without expressed permission from the author. Some examples are listed on the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign Web site.

Textbooks cost students an average of $900 per year, according to a 2005 study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

This is a story with strong reader interest that can be localized to virtually any college campus. Have professors on your campus jumped on the bandwagon? If not, why not? Have any professors on your campus created open textbooks? How do textbook publishers and representatives of your local bookstore respond to these efforts?

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