By Ana Tintocalis
California is one step closer to bringing free online textbooks for state college students, a huge step for the open education movement. A historic bill on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown would give college professors, and thereby students, an option to use free online, customizable curriculum rather than print textbooks, for which students spend upwards of $1,000 per year. The measure establishes the first free digital library for the University of California, the California State University and California Community College systems.
If the bill passes, students of 50 most popular lower-division courses could access the content through an online portal at little or no cost. Faculty members would be able to remix and repurpose the digital content as they see fit, rather than having to rely on print textbooks.
A similar effort is underway in the state of Washington, led by the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, which seeks to create an Open Course Library that will include inexpensive online educational content. [Read more about some of the challenges they're contending with.]
Dean Florez, president and CEO of the 20 Million Minds Foundation, who helped craft the bill for State Senate President Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg, says the content within the digital library would also be interactive, with links to chat rooms also known as "open study halls."
“Our students are so used to being networked … we really see these books as ‘social books,’” Florez said. “Students become engaged with each other, not through the professor, but through the book itself.”