California may create its own virtual online library. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has proposed funding open source textbooks for the 50 most widely taken lower-division courses. E-books would be free; a printed copy would cost $20.
While textbook publishers question the quality of open-source learning materials, advocates say the new materials will be better.
[See why reading isn't dead for college students.]
"Improved teaching and learning are important benefits of open licensing, perhaps more important than affordability," says Jacky Hood, co-director of the Community College Open Textbooks Collaborative.
Open-source books rely on "a community of authors, revisers, practitioners, researchers, and adapters," College of the Redwoods's Cain writes.
Open Education Resources (known as OER) has a friend in the U.S. Education Department. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, a former community college president, has been advocating open-source books for years. Any learning materials community colleges develop with federal job training funds will be released with a Creative Commons license, which means others can use, revise, and "repurpose" without payment.
"This is an effort led by pioneers," said Kanter in an interview with Tom Caswell, who runs Washington's Open Course Library. "It's very easy for faculty to use textbooks that don't have the latest information in them. OER solves that problem. They can add chapters and they can pull down other free chapters from other places in the world. ... I think it gives faculty access to 21st century tools. However, I think everyone's still on a learning curve."
Joanne Jacobs writes Community College Spotlight for The Hechinger Report, an independent nonprofit education news site. Jacobs also blogs about K-12 education and is the author of Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.