Free Textbooks? Yes, Please!

ALENA HANSON
Opinions Editor

Many people can say they have a college textbook covered in dust somewhere in their parents’ attics or a bin destined for the thrift store. Those hulks of paper have done nothing but collect dust, mildew and tiny spiders for most of its life. Offerings on various college courses have been long for- gotten. The content and edition may continue to change, but what matters most has not gotten better over the years—the price. They are becoming more and more expensive with every year that drags by.

What I want to know is what makes last year’s math book cheaper than the current year? As Scott McNealy, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, told The New York Times, “10 plus 10 has been 20 for a long time.” So, why do I have to spend so much on a shiny new cover, when the information is virtually the same?

One of the problems purchasing traditional textbooks is that an added chapter can render an edition worthless. This makes it almost impossible for me to sell to the people that will take the same course the next semester. That makes the money spent on the book look so much more wasteful.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why does she not just rent them?” The answer to that is: I do.

Rental books are still expensive, especially if the bookstore has run out of used cop- ies. The price rises, and there is zero chance of reselling. I do what I have to do, even if I do not like it. This brings me to my next point: are the printing companies taking advantage of college students?

You better believe it. Educational publishers cater to guidelines and policy pref- erences set in motion by the specific state. Textbooks published free online would shift power over content away from publishing companies. People also can defend that students uncomfortable with computers and online participation would also be disadvantaged. That may be true, but technology is not just a phase. It is here to stay. The majority of students do not fit in this category.

The need to have ways to fund the pro- duction of free textbooks is not the only undefined issue. Normally, authors are paid by publishers. The challenge is getting volunteers to help write these free class materials. There will also be the issue of making sure quality is kept high. This needs to be taken in to consideration, as the material needs to be sustainable and relevant.

Technology has already made it easier for established publishers to offer multiple editions virtually. Texts published free online would only increase the trend toward flexibility and decrease this overall debt in just textbook terms.

Something I found very interesting was the fact that free online materials can also have great advantages. For a class to have a free online textbook, all students will be offered these benefits.

That specifically being McNealy’s online tutorials that incorporate elements of videogames into the learning process.

The use of traditional aspects mixed with immediate feedback use skills that kids get from their Xbox 360 that would other- wise be denied. This could make the overall experience much better for the student that already has to sit through a class period of talking.

To be able to just study in a way that makes it interesting, I feel like students would be more likely to do better and care about how they do.

I am unsure if this approach will succeed, but what would it hurt to try something new? The cost consciousness and attention to technology make textbooks exactly the sort of experimentation that deserves a se- rious test.

Providing college students with free text- books is no easy task, but it can be done.

We need to have a change, or not many people will be able to live up to their full potential because of cost.