Can We Afford Free Textbooks?

Robert S. Feldman, Inside Higher Ed, Mar 27, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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This is an argument that can't be ignored. It runs as follows: OER textbookss address the cost of higher education, and while cost is a significant problem, the low completion rate is an even more significant problem. Part of the reason for the low completion rate is poor learning strategy, a strategy that is entrenched with existing (and now OER) textbooks. Compare that to what paid learning materials provide: activities, interactivity, analytics, and more. So we should continue to pay for learning resources. It's a lovely argument and Robert S. Feldman should be commended.

But. First, neither publishers nor professors were not prepared to budge from the textbook model until free textbooks came online. Moreover, only some OERs are textbooks; the vast majority are learning resources that are out in front of publishers in addressing real learning needs and challenges. Finally, many features of progressive education - interactivity, constructionism, etc. - really work only with open learning resources. If we drop support for OER we lose all this, and we lose the main force for innovation in our field.

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