AFFORDABLE AND OPEN TEXTBOOKS: An Exploratory Study of Faculty Attitudes (October 2009)

peter.suber's bookmarks 2013-01-06


Abstract:  The textbook industry is in significant flux, fueled by evolving technologies, increased availability of 
open content and curricula, active used textbook markets, and, most recently, a rash of textbook 
rental start-ups, just to name a few of the factors at play. Concerns about textbook affordability are 
at the forefront of conversations about the future of the textbook. At the same time, Open 
Educational Resources (OERs)—learning materials distributed openly for either no or minimal 
cost—may have become commonplace enough that a credible, viable infrastructure for open 
textbooks, one that mainstream faculty would accept, could be imagined. 
The Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs)—who have been at the forefront of 
raising awareness about textbook affordability for much of the past decade—launched a two-year 
campaign ( in 2007 to drive mainstream faculty's 
acceptance of open textbooks and other affordable alternatives in place of traditional textbooks. UC 
Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education was awarded a grant from the William and Flora 
Hewlett Foundation, via the Student PIRGs, to conduct an independent, objective, and exploratory 
analysis of the campaign using an online survey and focus groups. We also more generally 
addressed faculty perceptions about affordability and open textbooks. 
Our results show that faculty want a diversity of choices. They are independent thinkers, 
exceptionally busy, suffer from extreme information overload, are generally dedicated to ensuring 
their students’ success, and do not take well to “one size fits all” solutions. It was clear from our focus groups and survey that any discussion about textbook affordability solutions must also take 
into account that most faculty are active and independent decision makers when it comes to 
choosing a textbook or other curricular materials for their courses; the top-down high-school model 
of textbook adoption is anathema to many professors and instructors. Complicating the picture are 
the natural, heterogeneous needs among the institutions, disciplines, and courses encompassed by 
higher education; the type of institution and the level and content of the course will ultimately 
determine which curricular forms offer the best solutions. Faculty made clear that their students 
represent a plethora of learning backgrounds and goals, and desire flexibility and choice in textbook 
options. What is notable and cannot be ignored is that purely electronic solutions will not be 
universally embraced in the near term. Reasons for resistance included students’ need for the 
safety net of a printed textbook and the positive pedagogical practice of engaging with the text by 
“writing in the margins” (which is not a practical reality in current electronic platforms).   
Regarding the demand for open textbooks, there simply are not enough currently available in 
enough disciplines to satisfy the multitude of faculty and student needs in lower and upper division 
courses; a much wider array of high-quality, easy-to-use, and reliable open textbooks will have to 
be produced for more widespread faculty adoption to be realized. Even then, open textbooks will 
likely be only one of many players in the curricular materials market. A single, predetermined 
solution (e.g.,“open textbooks” or “open educational resources”) and such jargon may very well 
work against the OER movement and faculty’s willingness to explore new options. Finally, we 
strongly recommend that a wide range of faculty (and student) input be considered essential to any 
conversation about the future of textbook affordability.


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Date tagged:

01/06/2013, 21:15

Date published:

01/06/2013, 16:15