Tuesday, July 12, 2016

As Free Textbooks Go Mainstream, Advocate Says Colleges Should Do More to Support Them

The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Goldie Blumenstyk
July 12, 2016

It’s been a big few weeks for the movement to replace commercial textbooks with free online materials, thanks to the sudden rise of something called the Zero Textbook Cost degree.

In June, 38 community colleges announced plans to make free online materials standard in every course in some degree programs as part of a new effort coordinated by Achieving the Dream. Just a few weeks later, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, signed a 2016-17 budget that includes $5 million for community colleges in the state to create their own ZTC degrees.

Hal Plotkin, a longtime advocate of open education resources, or OER, says the moves could eventually save students billions of dollars. As he argued in a recent commentary, California’s new ZTC program is "easily the most ambitious state-level effort to promote the use of OER in public higher education to date."

Yet while cheering both the California and Achieving the Dream initiatives, Mr. Plotkin, a senior open-policy fellow at Creative Commons USA, argues that college leaders could and should be doing far more to promote the use of free, openly licensed materials, to prevent publishers from treating students "like walking cash registers."


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