Textbooks and Open Educational Resources

Professor Alain Bourget of California State University-Fullerton is defending his action of choosing a cheaper option textbook for his students instead of the $180 one imposed by his department. He says the $75 book he choose, supplemented with free online resources, is just as effective as the department-chosen book.

According to a writer for Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik, the case is “being closely watched by advocates of open educational resources (free online materials, commonly called OER) who see the dispute as a sign they need to challenge not only traditional textbooks but traditional methods of selecting textbooks.”

Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) says this case shows how the marketplace often evolves faster than current campus practices. She says, “Ten years ago long-term departmental adoptions were considered good for affordability since it allows a strong local used-book market to develop. Now it can work against students by perpetuating the traditional publishing industry’s stranglehold on the market, which keeps new innovations like OER out.”

I would think that if a department considers the professor qualified enough to teach the course, then that professor should also be qualified enough to choose the book from which to teach. Professor Bourget says he is frustrated by constant releases of new editions, making it difficult for his students to buy used books. He simply wants to help his students, who “aren’t rich” he says, get the same level of education at a more affordable price.

There are ethical questions in play here besides price, though. The authors of the $180 book are also the chair and vice-chair of the mathematics department at the university. While the school has said that the authors did not participate in the decision to use the book, it still seems odd that they would choose this book instead of an identified cheaper option for their students.

David Wiley, leader of the Open Education Group at BYU who works with schools and colleges on using OER states that failure to use less expensive options “when department leaders are benefiting financially from the status quo, raises ethical questions.”

This may just be another sign that the status quo of educational publishing (and selection) needs to be revised to be as flexible as the current age.

By: Briana Farr