A program started in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, geared toward encouraging the widespread adoption of "open textbooks," has grown rapidly since it was founded two years ago and was recently recognized by an interstate educational organization for its achievements.
The College Open Textbook Collaborative was honored on Nov. 12 by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education's Cooperative for Educational Technologies Outstanding Work Award. The WOW award recognizes the innovative use of technology in higher education.
Foothill-De Anza's Open Textbook Collaborative touts the use of digital textbooks with very flexible copyright restrictions in community colleges across the country.
The seeds for the collaborative were sown in 2007 after two professors at De Anza College, Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean, decided that the statistics textbook they had coauthored was too expensive for many students. The two professors worked to buy the copyright back from their publisher and then published their work through Connexions, an online open educational resource repository. Students can now access their text for free and professors can pick and choose which portions of their text they would like to use in the classroom.
This approach, according to Una Daly, associate director of College Open Textbook Collaborative, is helping students get a better education and graduate earlier, especially at the community college level, where the cost of a semester's textbooks can often dwarf the cost of tuition.
Students in community colleges are often there because they cannot afford to go to a four-year school, Daly said. When those students are faced with steep textbook costs, they often choose to drop the course requiring those texts, try to get by without buying the texts or put off buying the texts until they can afford them.
"For students who are at that edge this can really make a difference," Daly said. "With an online textbook they can start using it on day one. They aren't denied the textbooks because of a lack of ability to pay."
Many students say that they prefer physical texts to digital ones, Daly said, but she believes as the technology improves these complaints may decrease. Daly is also a faculty member in the computer technology and information systems department at Foothill College.
Since it was founded in 2008, the collaborative has identified and cataloged more than 500 open community college textbooks and now counts more than 200 community colleges across the United States as members. Almost 150 of the textbooks in the collaborative's database have been peer reviewed.
These open textbooks are often free when accessed online and cheap -- between $20 and $60 -- if students want to download a copy to their computer or order a physical copy.
In addition, the flexible copyright rules allow professors to pull only those segments of a text pertinent to their lesson plans.
"Professors don't frequently find a textbook that matches their class exactly," Daly said.