In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.
BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.
The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.
For low-income students at community colleges, open educational resources might be an effective resource for keeping more students in school.
Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.
“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”
The high cost of traditional textbooks—an average of somewhere between $600 and $1,400 per student each year, according to studies by NACS and the College Board—not only impacts students’ ability to attend college but also their ability to continue and complete coursework. Open educational resources, including the free, peer-reviewed textbooks offered by OpenStax, eliminate cost barriers for students and allow unrestricted, immediate access to learning materials, increasing the likelihood for students to complete their courses successfully.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of websites and organizations set up to address the high cost of textbooks. They are using the open source content model to bring low-cost or free textbooks to the party.
The most recent announcement comes from OpenStax College which announced that they will be releasing free of charge a series of five books. The group plans to offer more than 20 titles.
OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Their free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators (including two Nobel laureates) to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course. Through partnerships with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax College is working to improve access to higher education for all. OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is made possible through the generous support of several philanthropic foundations.
The first five books are College Physics, Intro to Sociology, Biology, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. Once published, they will be free to download and view via the Web, PDF or EPUB. Given the nature of open-source content, faculty is a big part of the development process as they are encouraged to post corrections, suggest examples, or volunteer as editors.
It’s innovation in education. And the time is right to offer free textbooks that meet scope and sequence requirements for most courses. With a popularity of the iPad and other tablets students should welcome this free content. Being these are peer-reviewed texts written by professional content developers they should be welcomed by professors who are sensitive to the cost of textbooks for students. Professors can adopt a book today for a turnkey classroom solution or modify it to suit your teaching approach. As with a lot of the open-source content now being shared, it will take a bit of time for these college books to work their way into the adoption process, but as they do, it is clear that a peer-reviewed book will have a leg up in credibility and thus in getting more widespread adoption and classroom use. Free online and low-cost printed books are built for student budgets.