Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Open Textbooks Are the Future of Higher Education

Matthew Boyle ’19

Contributing Writer 

There is good news for anyone who has ever had to spend $200 or more on a single textbook; open textbooks are coming to Trinity in the near future. Open textbooks are peer-reviewed, online textbooks created by professors. They are also created through a creative commons license so they can be shared and edited without violating copyright law. Yet, best of all, they do not require you to buy access codes to do homework and do not cost a cent to read. Of course, if one prefers a physical copy then there are printing costs, but even then, they cost a fraction of the books they are replacing. All of this is thanks to a largely unsung grant program run by the Dean of Faculty, Tim Cresswell, and Information Services. Therefore, my aim is not only to inform the student body, but to call them to action. What the college has done so far is commendable, but it will likely require pressure and advocacy by students and professors to expand upon this first step and make open textbooks widely available on campus.

The fight against overpriced textbooks is about more than basic self-interest. It also isn’t a socialist fever dream, like the minimum wage, which we all know is detrimental to society. Students and professors should support open textbooks because the practices of publishing companies are simply indefensible. Textbook publishers not only have a monopoly, or rather an oligopoly, but they also have a captive audience: students. The typical rules of a free market don’t apply when a product is listed as “required.” If students choose not to buy the books, they do so to the detriment of their own education. Moreover, they would never be able to convince enough students to refuse to buy textbooks that it would actually affect the publishers’ bottom line. Is it any wonder, then, that the price of textbooks has risen over four times the rate of inflation? Or how about the new editions that come out every year and maybe have two pages arranged differently, while everything else is the same? Only greed explains these outcomes, greed unchecked by a consumer population that can punish publishers by going to their competitors. Even from a conservative mindset, then, open textbooks should be adopted to reintroduce the discipline of free market competition. The wrist of textbook publishers needs to be reminded what the yardstick of consumer dissatisfaction feels like. 

For these reasons and others, I am urging everyone on campus to pay attention to this issue and do what you can to support free or affordable textbooks. If, as I suspect for most people, what I have said is news, that should give you some indication of how well information spreads from decision making bodies at Trinity to the student population. 

We will need to be active participants in the decision-making process if the open textbook program is going to expand any time soon. So keep the conversation alive by asking your professors, librarians and SGA representatives about the future of open textbooks on campus and make it clear that you support them. If you’re really interested, there’s always a place in ConnPIRG for more student activists. Just find us in the basement of Mather by the Community Service Office.

Last but not least, I would like to give a shout-out and thank you to the professors who received grants to explore using open textbooks in their classes: Stefanie Chambers, Jack Dougherty, Carol Clark, Troy Helming, Todd Ryan, Clayton Byers and Harry Blaise. I’d also like to thank Dean Cresswell, the SGA, the staff at Information Services and everyone else involved in creating this program on campus.

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